Student raises political awareness through site
With a love for politics and the realization of a need for an objective political news source, Sunil Gumaste decided to put his thoughts into action.
The School of Arts and Sciences first-year student began construction of a Web site called www.voteoften.us after watching the first Democratic debate last summer.
"Some of the debates were going on, and Sunil talked about coming up with a site with an unbiased view for each of the candidates," said Ulhas Gumaste, Sunil's father.
Anyone can go to the Web site, which launched on Super Tuesday, and have current political information at hand, Sunil said.
"Lots of times, there are so many different sources out there, it can be overwhelming [and the site] is an easy source for political news," he said.
Sunil said he was able to use the knowledge of computer science he gained in high school to develop the site.
"I took AP Computer Science in high school," he said. "I used PHP [a server-side programming language used to dynamic web pages], which is the most popular for Web sites lately, including Facebook. Computer science is my hobby, and I love programming."
Sunil's family members said they were shocked and impressed at Sunil's ability to create an advanced Web site, despite his keen interest in the area.
"I was very surprised, given his age, that he learned everything from scratch and he was able to create something so professional," said Kedar Gumaste, Sunil's brother. "It's very intuitive and very user friendly."
Kedar, a 23-year-old Harvard University alumnus, said he recently sent an e-mail to his friends and co-workers about the site.
"A number of them came up to me and said it was very impressive," he said. "A number of them use it now."
Ulhas said he was pleased Sunil was so committed to his project during its production.
"He chose to do this, and he stuck with it through completion," he said. "I'm very proud of him because of what it can do for people with increasing political awareness."
But Ulhas said Sunil's love for programming will probably remain recreational, as his main focus is his dual majors in biology and economics.
"He's just a freshman in college, and people change their minds," Ulhas said. "But based on what I see in him now, it's just a hobby. I think based on what he's been able to do, he thinks he's pretty good with it and what he is lacking he can teach himself."
Ulhas said his son learned how to create features for his Web site during its construction.
He designed features for users to access, which rate the contents of the site in various ways.
Users can submit articles to the site and others can vote whether they like an article, with the more popular articles being placed at the top of the page, Sunil said.
"If I click the up arrow, it gives an article a positive vote," he said. "There is an algorithm behind the scenes, and depending on how many votes are processed within the hour, it gives each new article a popularity number behind the scenes."
Similar to social networking sites like Facebook, Sunil created a friends feature where users can see all recent friend activity.
Other features include a bias bar, which users can utilize to rate whether articles are more liberal or conservative, Sunil said.
"There are lots of sorting methods, too," he said. "So let's say I only want to view the most left articles, I just click that option and I can view the articles that got the most left bias votes."
But Sunil did not stop with the basic features. He created a way for users to leave comments on articles as well as other users' votes and comments on the site's contents.
As the 2008 election has taken on full force in the media, Sunil created specific election features for users.
"The election news is taking a large portion of the site right now because it's so heated, but it's really for all politics," he said.
Features include access to voting for or against candidates' stances on specific issues, as well as tagging specific candidates to individual articles.
"Whenever an article is about a candidate, you can tag the article or submit requests to change tags [if it is incorrect]," he said. "People have to vote for those changes to be made. Right now, it's just two votes. But as more users come on the site to make it less easy to be abused, I can change that."
Then, whenever users search for candidates, any articles tagged with that candidate will show up, Sunil said.
There is even a 2008 election section on users' profiles that aggregates how a user rated articles, comments and votes, Sunil said.
"It gives you more of an objective view of your opinion if you rate articles overtime and rated them based off the issues in the articles," he said.
Users can create an election feature for any local or state elections in the future by tagging, creating a specific election tag for articles and having other users approve of them, he said.
As for the future of the site, Sunil said he answers any requests for changes as he has the time but sees nothing on the horizon as far as adding additional features or making major changes.