Amherst doesn’t make this year’s annual American Institute for Economic Research’s College Destinations booklet – a listing of the top 75 college towns and cities, which ranks upon several factors, including access to arts and leisure activities. However, many Five College Consortium students feel their bustling college town holds a wide array of regular social events thrown by the area’s colleges, businesses and restaurants.
But when looking at the population of the area’s over 28,000 undergraduate students and comparing it to the attendance of events, there seems to be a central problem – students just don’t know about them.
While 28,000-plus students won’t all be showing up to Amherst Brewing Company’s weekly Sunday brunch or piling into the doors of the Black Sheep to see regular blue grass bands perform, it’s questionable how many students are aware of these events in their 9-month-a-year hometown. So, as students struggle, searching aimlessly through their social networks for where the party is at, two University of Massachusetts alumni have worked tirelessly over the last four months to create a technology that looks to mutually benefit party and event throwers and the town’s residents by placing Amherst’s events online. Nicholas Mathews, 23, and Abhay Vatsa, 22, partnered together to create a mobile application and web site that will track social events extending from businesses on the tip of Sunderland to music venues in Northampton, covering nearly all online listings of events within the Five Colleges.
Titled (eye)spy, Mathews and Vatsa call their web site a “Campus Live for social events.”
“It’s a problem. It really is,” said Mathews, a native of Topsfield, Mass. who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science last spring.
“It’s Friday night. You’re with your friends, and you don’t know what’s going on. Meanwhile, there are a lot of really great events going on.”
“No one wants to be bored,” continued Mathews. “Our [mobile] app[lication]’s goal is to make it so that people don’t have to be bored anymore.” According to Mathews and Vatsa, (eye)spy, which is set to launch today with full functionality on Friday, uses GPS-tracking technology to determine an individual’s location through either their computer’s Web browser or cell phone. Then, it displays a map of the area, which pinpoints the user’s location to give a visual guide to all the events occurring in real time within a 50-mile radius of the user.
A list of the events scheduled for the remainder of the day will be provided, with individuals or business owners who uploaded event information capable of disclaiming when events have reached full capacity or been canceled. Many of the events have been provided through businesses’ self-promotional agreements with (eye)spy.
“With user submitted events, if there is a pick-up soccer game you want to post, you can ask people to ‘come join us,’” said Mathews. Vatsa also said professors would be able to use (eye)spy to advertise campus speeches and lectures.
Users will also be able to access directions from their current location to any event through the site. (Eye)spy’s mobile applications for Android and iPhone owners have not yet been confirmed, however, Mathews and Vatsa said they were confident Android would accept their app’s submission within the next few days. According to the pair, Apple would likely confirm their iPhone app proposition after seven days and a more arduous process than that of the Android application. While apps are only now in the process of being constructed for the Android and iPhone, Mathews said any cell phone with Internet connection could access information by logging onto (eye)spy’s web site.
To sign up for (eye)spy beta and enable use of the site once it launches this week, users must register on getspied.com. There is no fee for the services, and no information need be provided other than a confirmable e-mail address.
To promote (eye)spy, Mathews and Vatsa are throwing a party Saturday night at an undisclosed location. In order to find the party, users will need to have signed up through getspied.com.
Mathews said Saturday’s promotional party may reach a capacity of between 200-400 persons, and guests would receive information about (eye)spy.
In the future, Mathews said he hopes to have several random giveaways that will pop up on (eye)spy. Those using the application will then race to be the first to arrive on-location and claim prizes, such as sports memorabilia or an Xbox 360.
“We want students to know that they don’t have to sit in their dorm rooms and just drink, awkwardly waiting for someone to tell them about a frat party,” said Mathews.
Mathews and Vatsa also said they felt those throwing fraternity parties would not be hesitant to place information about their parties and events on (eye)spy out of fear law enforcement officials would try to shut down parties as a result.
“Fraternities have always posted their events on Facebook,” said Mathews. “We are just offering a different platform.”
“They can use this tool to manage their crowds if their party reaches capacity,” said Vatsa.
“We don’t want to brand it as a party finder, but that is a great use for it,” said Mathews. “It can be so much more than a party finder.” Vatsa, who graduated last spring as well with a degree in finance and economics, explained that his business partnership with Mathews began through playing a whimsical game on the way back from a weekend visiting mutual friends in Standish, Maine.
“I bought Entrepreneur Magazine for the drive home,” said Mathews, “and we challenged each other to come up with an awesome idea like ones in the magazine.”
While the pair said they started putting together their concept with limited experience in web interfacing, coding or entrepreneurial endeavors on the broad scale, they attributed their feelings of success in their product’s conceptual and developmental phases to a strong friendship and yin and yang personalities.
“His strengths are my weaknesses, and my weaknesses are his strengths,” said Vatsa.
“We are like honey and vinegar … we are willing to tell each other when the other is wrong,” laughed Mathews. “We are rarely both wrong … that’s why we work well together.”
Mathews also said (eye)spy’s development team consists of two engineers acting as backend programmers and living out on the West Coast. One of the engineers is Peter Hunt, a Cornell University bachelor’s degree recipient in computer engineering, as well as one of Mathews’ close friends and currently works for the social-networking giant Facebook. The other, Hunt’s roommate, is Scott Purdy, who holds a master’s degree in computer engineering from Cornell and currently works for Google.
Mathews and Vatsa said they knew they wanted to start their business off in Amherst.
“We had this problem here,” said Vatsa on why starting in Amherst was important, “and so we wanted to fix the problem [of not knowing where to go out] where we had it first. People are always looking for things to do here.”
“Plus, we thought it would add value to our degree,” added Mathews. “There is a nostalgia aspect. We know it better here and know some business owners.”
One of Mathews’ and Vatsa’s friends, UMass senior finance major Ben Blieden tested out the site.
“Honestly, I was a little skeptical at first. I thought it was a great idea, but it’s a lot of work,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s really coming together now. I fully expect it to go very well when they launch. I have already talked to at least a dozen freshmen who have all said they are going to use it.”
“[Mathews and Vatsa] have put so much work into this,” Blieden continued. “Sometimes they would work 40 hours a week on this on top of their other jobs. All they talk about is (eye)spy.”
For Mathews, the extra work has seemed to be worth the effort.
“There is so much that goes on in the Amherst community that should be more visible to everybody,” he said.
Alyssa Creamer can be reached at [email protected]