Facebook, already bulging out of its headquarters in downtown Palo Alto, is now infiltrating Stanford University.
A new course, called Create Engaging Web Applications Using Metrics and Learning on Facebook will be offered this fall in Stanford’s computer science department.
It intends to help students in computer science, other engineering majors, and in the business school learn how to build and market user-friendly software — using Facebook as a “petri dish,” says Dave McClure (pictured left), a co-instructor and an outspoken evangelist for Facebook’s developer platform.
Students will build applications for Facebook, then gather and analyze detailed information about how Facebook users actually use them. Students will focus on using detailed numerical measurements to guide software iterations, just like developers do on thousands of existing Facebook applications.
Facebook’s millions of users are a pre-packaged, viral distribution network for software developers. Popular applications include “Top Friends” that shows your favorite Facebook friends in your Facebook profile, and “iLike” which lets you stick audio clips of your favorite songs in your profile.
Students in the class will work in groups of three, first developing an application designed to appeal to most Facebook users.
Groups will then develop a second application, more closely focused around helping students use Facebook for education, such as a way for students to share class notes with each other.
They’ll be graded based on how many Facebook users they can get actively using their applications.
The course is also hosting an event at the end of the quarter, where students can present their applications to interested investors.
It is not only a chance for students to get hands-on experience, nor just a chance to get rich and famous. It is also an experiment in how to teach the process of successful software development, according to BJ Fogg (pictured left), the other instructor of the course and an expert in understanding how computers influence human thinking and human relationships.
Fogg hopes to use the course to produce a curriculum that other computer science, business and design instructors can model their own classes after.
The academic discipline of computer science has traditionally been focused on hard technology problems, such as search algorithms, rather than on the nuts and bolts of creating software people want to use.
Fogg has already collected a following of colleagues on a separate group in Facebook that focuses on teaching and learning using Facebook.
The irony of this class? Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, was admonished by his alma mater, Harvard, for experimenting with precursors to Facebook itself when he was still a student living in his college dorm.
You can join the class’s Facebook group here.