Get on your soapbox and shout it

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There’s a new application coming to Blackboard, explains business and technology editor Matthew Braga, and administrators will have no choice but to listen

If you’ve got a problem, shouting it out on Gould Street won’t do you much good. But if you so happen to live in industrial era London, that’s a completely different story.

It was then that citizens of Hyde Park would use soapboaxes as makeshift stages to air grievances and other complaints to the people around them.

“And if you gathered enough people you would march over to parliament hill and rally for some change,” explains Brennan McEachran, 20, a third year student in Ryerson’s business management program. “Fast-forward two hundred years and we’re taking that exact same concept and putting it online.”

The result is a project called Soapbox, a new BlackBoard application created by McEachran and set to launch today. Users submit questions and concerns about Ryerson to the site, which are then voted on by other students. The most popular submissions are then sent directly to school officials — and in some cases, to Ryerson president Sheldon Levy himself.

“The same way people moved from Hyde Park to Parliament Hill, we take that idea from Soapbox and put it in the email inbox of someone that can make change,” McEachran continues.

The service works similar in theory to sites like Digg or Reddit, where submissions are voted up or down based on popularity. Anyone can submit an idea — limited to 200 characters, keeping suggestions simple and concise — with the hope that important or popular ideas will rise to the top.

The project is one of many to come from Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone, an oncampus workspace for entrepreneurs and online startups. McEachran admits that it’s been tough to convince Ryerson to integrate a student project into the Black- Board service, but believes the benefits are well worth it.

For example, a student’s Ryerson ID will be linked to the service, meaning no registration or login will be necessary. And hopefully by the end of the month, Soapbox will have its own tab on BlackBoard, right alongside RAMSS and the library.

The hope is that Soapbox will become a core part of student life at Ryerson, where any issue — from the smallest program- specific grievances to more serious problems — can be raised with ease.

“It’s not necessarily for personal issues, [but] issues that are for the entire community,” explains McEachran. “Our goal is to get an actual response for you.”

That means organizing ideas in an accessible way, one that’s easily searchable by students and faculty. A vast system of tags and categories will help sort that information, while a front page widget will promote new, controversial and popular ideas.

McEachran stresses that the version of Soapbox launching today is just the beginning.

An improved notification system, social media integration and even community features like trophies are planned for release in the coming months, all with the hopes of improving the Soapbox experience.

After all, it’s easy to suggest an idea, says McEachran, but “if this system does all that heavy lifting for you, maybe we can make positive change that Ryerson wants — that students want — in the future.”

And if you don’t like it, you can take that issue straight to Soapbox yourself.

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