ITC recommends not to renew Mascot deal

The Information Technology Committee (ITC) approved the ITC Mascot Evaluation Subcommittee’s recommendation not to renew the College’s association with Mascot Network. The committee’s report concluded that “Mascot has not convinced us that they can offer a quality product that will significantly improve campus online communication facilities.”

According to chair of the ITC and professor of English Shawn Rosenheim, “Mascot was mismatched with Williams. It is not good for us now, but questions about Williams entering relationships with digital providers are not over.”

Former Chief Technology Officer Perry Hanson signed a one-year contract with Mascot on May 26, 1999. This year served as a trial run for Mascot as the company tried to build a free centralized web site for the college. Factors such as “miniscule usage,” numerous student complaints, and concerns about the commercialized nature of the website helped contribute to the formation of a subgroup to carefully investigate Mascot’s role on campus.

The committee solicited feedback from students about their use of the Mascot website. Out of 587 respondents, 77.6 percent said they never logged onto Mascot, 9.9 percent said they logged on once, 2.7 percent said they logged on weekly, 1.4 percent said they logged on daily and 8.3 percent logged on “less frequently.”

The most commonly cited reason for using Mascot was the directory that included security pictures not given to Williams Students Online (WSO) facebook. Other features mentioned included the campus map, menu, weather, movie times, informal groups and links to other pages.

In evaluating the service, the subcommittee focused on six primary issues: commercialization, security, privacy, competition with WSO, quality and administrative staff opinion.

While the College allows advertising on its property – on bulletin boards, for example – the committee decided that the advertising found on the website was more akin to placing ads in the course bulletin because, unlike on bulletin boards, students cannot ignore the commercials. Furthermore, the College would have little if any control over the content of advertising on Mascot because “with Mascot, we are not selling advertising space but giving Mascot Network permission to sell advertising space for us.”

That Mascot has had to be reminded to keep its promises about distinguishing the commercial and non-commercial aspects of its website and the company’s failure to fix password security problems also contributed to the committee’s decision.

The duplication of many of the services provided by WSO also proved to be problematic, especially since Mascot lacks a quality-control mechanism that would support the argument that Mascot would become “more stable over time than WSO.”

According to Rosenheim, Mascot proved to be “redundant with WSO which is a rare institution [for colleges, being both] rigorous and stable.”