it was sometime in mid-2008 that we decided to enter the education vertical. the genesis was simple…education in India is HUGE…and i mean…friggin huge…and its poorly represented in the Internet space. which is surprising, because the target audience has possibly the highest share of online users amoungst all other segments. students comprise a massive share of internet users…and there didnt seem to be anything worth appreciating, to cater to them when we sat down to prepare the plan, there were 2 main planks (actually 3…but i wont count development…because we thought it would be just like our other websites) – content and design. we wanted the site to have the best content available in the Internet space…and we wanted it to have a young, fresh, clean look.
for inspiration, we turned to wikipedia for design. white space, boxed approach, elegant…and not cluttered. we couldnt find a similar inspiration for content. the present sites in india sucked…while some international ones came close…but not quite. we decided to handle it from scratch. along the way, we figured that development was the 3rd differentiating plank…predominantly due to that one single feature which i am proud of… after 9 months of work…across these 3 pillars, we launched studytimes…and i have reasons to believe why it will fare much better than the competition (which according to me doesnt extend beyond shiksha and studyplaces…there are some really good vertical sites there…pagalguy etc…but then we are broad based and they are not competition in that sense)
since the lauch of studytimes, people have come up with mostly good things to say…! most of them have come from the personal network, which is great cause they also tend to be the most critical. for instance, ruchi’s first reaction was…its cluttered. i then asked her to name one non-cluttered site according to her…she said rediff…and i knew not to consider her opinion anymore!! :) ofcourse i am a sucker for feedback…and there have been these emails about spelling mistakes, and bad links…thanks for them…! and then there has been this segment…which always exists..just like the people you see on the road when an accident has happened…! they feel its just a replica of existing sites…there is nothing fresh about the site…etc etc…! here is why they are wrong
why studytimes (now StudyNation) will fare better than competition
1. Superior Content
StudyTimes definitely has the best content in the country as of today. We have a database of over 25,000 colleges across India, USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia…covering over 4,00,000 unique courses! The details are important too…we dont just have pages of random shit… One thing we did quite differently, is to classify the Indian colleges. call it a little liberty from our side, but we sensed that people searching for engineering in india should not always land up with the IITs and the NITs of India…what if i am a dude who knows that these are not my cup of tea…and want to see the Tier II colleges. so we have categorized our colleges in Top Ranked (a hand-picked selection of the top 700 colleges of India…across all fields…drawn from multiple sources such as rankings, affiliations, reviews etc), medium ranked (the fat belly of our databse, which are colleges that are for the average student)…and non-ranked (colleges that exist…and do just that…exist…they dont even have a website..which made us figure that hey are serving a very local audience…so lets not rank them at all)
so someone searching for engineering on StudyTimes will see the top ranked…yes ofcourse…but will also see the medium ranked (sorted by location..so someone sitting in delhi will see delhi colleges first etc) and the non-ranked…! And we have some terrific content on the top-ranked colleges, which will ofcourse spread all through the database in sometime…! check out ISB on StudyTimes…or say…Hindu College…this is what you call a friggin content-rich page. this is stuff that students will love…
This was the 3rd plank that we realized down the road. Search on existing sites are crappy to say the least. Shiksha search is horrible and StudyPlaces doesnt even have a concept of search on the site…! we decided…(and it was largely the phenomenal work of Bharani and his team) that search will be one of the most important features on StudyTimes. and it is… its intuitive…it tries and understands the intent of the user. we built a logic of synonyms, exclusions and abbreviations on the site and have tried to come as close to the intent as possible. so if you search for Top Engineering Colleges, you WILL get the top engineering colleges, unlike the other sites. search for management and you get MBA colleges, not hotel management or sports management …so on and so forth.
3. Study Abroad
Number of students going out to study is increasing and will continue to increase. we realized that early into the development of StudyTimes and decided to dedicate an entire microsite to it. So the Study Abroad section of StudyTimes is an independent site, for all technical purposes. It has its own forum, its own events section, its own colleges and courses list…etc…and yet…remains seamlessly integrated into the entire StudyTimes structure. its an exclusive space for students looking for International Education, but at any time if they wish to come back to good old India…its just a click away.
4. User Interface
i like the feel of the site. its easy on the eyes…and yet content rich at all times (i love the sheer amount of content on our student living section…and the way its presented…sample this). to me studyplaces is cluttered in the sense that content is all over…its not structured. Shiksha gives me a classifieds feel…though i like the fact that they have a lot of white space and it doesnt really look all that cluttered. we adopted the boxed approach. segregation of content so that the user can easily identify it and make use of it. he has to just scroll his eyes through the headlines and he knows where to go…
5. User Generated Content
am a sucker for UGC…and its possibly the hardest thing to figure out in the Internet space…and the most powerful. look at what wikipedia and youtube have accomplished…no single entity could have come even closer. we decided to have our own share of UGC on the site, to help generation of content, beyond facts and figures.
College Reviews – allows users to review colleges on key parameters. this is great (well..not right now cause we dont have a lot of them…but down the line)…cause a student researching will for the first time ever have reviews on the college. stuff that they usually reach out to, from alums, friends etc.
Forum – this is standard…no rocket science. but key to any site that aims to build UGC…! i dont claim we have done anything different…but this will definitely be another big source of information and content
Events – we have a section dedicated to capturing events. but we also users to suggest events, because we know that we cant do it all by ourselves. so finally…users can now promote and publish their events for free. IITD can submit the Rendezvous festival free on StudyTimes…and so can BITS for Oasis
now now..we all know how confused we were when we were students. except for me..everyone had no shit clue of what they wanted to do in life. its another thing that i am no where close to what i wanted to do back then..! StudyTimes has a counselling section…wherein we capture a profession every week and speak about it. So one can figure out what is it really to be an Architect, be our guest. Our a Fashion Designer? no issues… But the best part is yet to come. we have tied with up one of India’s best career counselor (whose name shall be disclosed very soon) and she has very gracefully decided to move her amazing Career Choice Test online. so very shortly, users of StudyTimes will be able to take a simple 30 minute test online and get their aptitude mapped onto some 4,500 odd professions…so it will not just tell you that you are fit to be an engineer, it will tell you you are fit to be a mechanical engineer. its thats precise (and needless to say accurate) the first time this is being offered in India…
7. Test Preparation
test preparation is huge in India…i mean…friggin HUGE…! and we ofcourse wanted to be a part of it. we (atleast as of now) dont intend to step into online testing, so the best way for us was to engage the users through relationships with coaching institutes. So StudyTimes intends to tie up with coaching institutes and service our users, through the site. its not yet up…but will be soon… till then…content rocks…! we have detailed information about the top examinations of India…right from the format to the exam dates such as form submission, test date, exam results etc. basically the works…
i am not suggesting that StudyTimes is a product that is a google in the internet space. it isnt offering anything new…but it is definitely offering a newer way of doing the same thing…! people can compare us to our comeptition and say we are simply replicating…but i dont care about such crap..! eventually the user knows what he wants…and will go back to what he knows will deliver… Final test: Search for Fashion Design Delhi on the 3 sites…and here is what you get…
StudyTimes result shows NIFT as the first one, followed by Apeejay and the JD Institute…! All known for being the top fashion design institutes in Delhi.
Shiksha for the same query shows Senorita College of Fashion and Design followed by Delhi University International Institute of Fashion Design (which btw is not in Delhi, but Nagpur), followed by IMS-Design and Innovation Academy. Quick question – where are the hell are these colleges…!!!
StudyPlaces takes the cake. It shows some random DiA at the top…but then thats featured…so even though I dont like search results being corrupted…its ok…its business at the end of it…! But then the real search shows me IIFT, which I dont even know if it exists in delhi…(but definitely claims of being the biggest fashion institutes of Asia) followed by NIDD (NIDD what???) which amoungst other courses of fashion design also offers vaastu shastra courses…! And then Sikkim Manipal…which I am guessing is not in Delhi…but claims to be in Delhi by StudyPlaces!
what would you much rather see…???
THAT is the power of execution….! Which is why StudyTimes will fare better than its competition…
PS: we are in beta version right now…which basically helps us improve our offering to the last mile. but all of it cant happen without the feedback of the users. so please send in your feedback…improvements…suggestions…whatever…to feedback [at] studynation [dot] com