Browser tab mobs no longer threat

By Lisa Schulz

Somewhere buried beneath 12 Internet browser tabs lies the user’s long-lost, original intention of commanding a computer to hum to life. Several hours and many tabs later, an exasperated sigh comes from the typical, modern-day Web surfer. If only there was a quicker way to catch the best waves in the infinite website sea.

With a similar thought, three Columbia graduates and one student applied to be part of MentorMob.com, a website in which users can customize search engine results for other members into tutorials. The former invitation-only experiment launched on Oct. 31.

Kristin Demidovich, marketing director; Krystal Marquez, marketer; Jessica Kocemba, copywriter and current senior marketing communication major; and MentorMob Community Manager Erin Sheffer have brought their Columbia history with them to the new website, which reached 1,000 registered users on its launch day, according to Sheffer.

“MentorMob can change the way society learns,” Sheffer said. “Really, it can evolve into this social movement where we’re no longer confined by location in order to learn. We can learn online from millions of people from anywhere in the world.”

With a viewer’s click of a button, a community-created “playlist” introduces step-by-step how-to guides to a particular hobby, interest or curiosity. Ranging from a tutorial of Photoshop to “World of Warcraft” tips, from beginner’s guitar lessons to finding a wedding dress, the playlists are made of videos, articles and pictures from various manually selected online sources.

The ultimate goal is to reduce wasted time in the user’s search process, said Vince Leung, co-founder of the website.

MentorMob’s blueprint came to life after Leung and co-founder Kris Chinosorn entered the website in the Tech Bunch Disrupt competition in California with an intention to create an innovative website to replace current technology.

“Wikipedia disrupted the whole encyclopedia industry,” Leung said. “[Craigslist] rendered newspaper classifieds pretty obsolete, really causing a lot of hurt and pain. But a lot of this is good because it forces innovation.”

Users are able to edit the playlists to condense steps, better explain the topic or to correct information, just as the online community of Wikipedia.org can, Leung said.

But with the vast amount of independent learning opportunities, the struggle is following through with personal projects. The time it takes to pursue what one needs to know for a hobby is also a factor. For instance, beginners in guitar could learn a basic song in three months, depending on his or her motivation, said Gary Yerkins, senior lecturer in the Music Department.

“Personal, one-on-one lessons are good,” Yerkins said. “You could conceivably give lessons over Skype, so it’d be a mixture of media there, but working with a live human and learning is always better, with respect to music training.”

Beyond the basics and techniques of guitar-playing, such as playing the right chords, Yerkins said that learning with another person would differentiate accurate playing from interpretive playing. Maintaining an attention span for learning and researching are different, Yerkins said.

When comparing a child’s attention span while learning guitar to a teenager’s attention span who wanted to emulate a heroic musician, it is more likely that the teenager would dedicate more time to learning, especially on their own time.

However, Yerkins said, we’re becoming increasingly less patient with how long it takes to research information.

To speed up the discovery process, MentorMob uses the crowd-sourcing technique, similar to Wikipedia, Leung said. The playlists on the site are less likely to be duplicated or contain false or lack of information when leaving the content up to the user’s discretion.

Also, if the community grows too large, the crowd-source method could be used to monitor the site.

Playlist editors could consolidate the excess amount of information into a final product, reducing the amount of misleading educational resources a search engine would present, Leung said.

MentorMob received the Illinois Technology Association 2011 CityLights Award, which is presented to businesses that support technological growth through collaboration for the state’s community, according to the ITA website.

Despite the uncertainty of the current economic conditions within the workforce, being involved in such opportunities as a student is the result of crucial networking, Sheffer said.

“Put yourself out there,” she said. “Go to networking events. Hand out business cards. Enjoy the moment. It doesn’t have to be scary.”

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