Monday, 18 March 2013

Note-sharing websites: would YOU use one?

Part of a series on Web 2.0 Applications

Data is the lifeblood of the internet, coarsing through the airwaves above your head. To put it another way, "Data is the Next Intel Inside": the chip fuelling many of the largest internet applications.

Sites such as Wikipedia, Amazon and eBay are nothing without data provided by users like you, and the same applies to less-legal torrent and file-sharing sites like EZTV and The Pirate Bay. Key to the success of these sites is data, and the creation of value from this data through employing a variety of strategies (see inset below).

The Whole Internet Truth

Student note-sharing websites: have YOU ever used one?

This week I felt like looking at the seedy side of the internet. Since I wasn't game to pick a porn site for a uni assignment, I've settled on something even better: Nexus Notes, a note-sharing sites for uni students.

The premise behind these sites is that students can buy and sell study notes, searchable by university, subject area and unit code. Students can use these notes to help prepare for exams or catch up on missed classes. They're like the eBay of study notes. There's usually no mention of assignments being available, but that's what we're all wondering isn't it?

I've sold notes through a similar site in the past. As an obsessive overachiever at uni, I make very detailed exam notes: summarised, condensed, colour-coded, with pictures, and bound. So, I thought, why not make some money off these? I signed up for an account and submitted a few sets. My cut from each sale was about $2 a pop, and I probably made about $30 before the money stopped coming in. I never submitted any assignments of my own, but plenty of assignments were being sold by others.

Nexus Notes (NN) appears to have replaced the site I used to use. It's based in Australia, and the homepage clearly states "Turn your University ... assignments into cash".

The site model is familiar: after creating an account students can browse by university, subject area and category, viewing short document descriptions before make purchases. Students can also upload their own documents and descriptive data, including proof of grade, and have the option of making the listing anonymous.

Nexus Notes: following best practices for data-centric applications

  • Unique, hard to recreate data
  • NN is wholly reliant on user-contributed data. This data is the result of a large time and effort commitment by the student author, and the currency of each document is also very important. These factors combine to make the data pool valuable and very hard to recreate.

  • Data is enhanced through user enrichment
    The seller must provide a detailed description of the document and evidence of the grade received for that subject or assessment. Purchasers give a star rating to each document, and the purchase count for each document is also displayed.

  • Enable users to control their own data
    Sellers retain ownership and IP, and have the right to post data anonymously.

  • Provide IP protection, but not be overly restrictive; and Ensure data is reusable and accessible
    The buyer "acquires a license to use the product" but Intellectual Property (IP) remains with the seller. A basic search function is incorporated to provide accessibility.

  • If you can't own the data, own the index, namespace or format
  • NN owns the web application and domain, and profits from commission on all sales, enabling their business model to function despite NN not actually owning the data.


The site appears fairly new, since there aren't many documents available and the list of universities and subject areas is limited. NN are clearly facing the "cold-start problem": the site is wholly dependent on user contributions in order to grow the document catalogue, but with the small range of documents currently available it will be difficult to attract buyers.

IP, copyright and the high potential for sites like this be used for plagiarism are also causes for concern. The site addresses the issue of data ownership by delegating all responsibility to its users:

"Nexus Notes does not have any control over, and does not take any responsibility for, the quality, safety or legality of any Products downloaded by you from the Site.
Nexus Notes does not warrant the infringement of third party IP rights by Products downloaded from Nexus Notes. Each Seller is required to warrant that its Product does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any third party."

Now, I'm no lawyer, but this looks a bit risky to me. With study material, it is often difficult to determine who holds the IP in the first place: university, lecturer, or student notetaker. This isn't policed or investigated by the site, so it all becomes a question of trust.

There are also ethical issues surrounding the potential for plagiarism, which the site's plagiarism policy attempts to address. However if you buy an assignment online, I'm betting your intentions might not be totally honest.

What do you think, will this assignment be used as a "layout example"?
-- Screenshot from Nexus Notes

Competitors and challengers

There are a number of similar sites on the net, although NN looks like it could be the main one in Ausralia. Prominent among other sites is Notehall in the US, which presents itself as pretty legit. There are also a number of anti-plagiarism sites, like Turnitin, which may be used to detect students who have plagiarised assignments through a note-sharing site.

What do you think, would you ever use a site like this? For buying or selling? Please take a minute to complete this week's survey, and let me know what you think.


1 comment:

  1. Hi Amber, this is a great analysis against O'Reilly's pattern. I like the way you looked at it from both sides - good and bad. Can you see any solutions to their problems (eg cold start lack of data, copyright/legals)? Although there are problems in this area, if noone else is doing this then they have the chance to own the space!