NoteSwap.com was launched by LSU students in 2005 to help fellow students exchange class notes, especially during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when thousands of evacuees enrolled temporarily.
Fast forward six years and the small website company is evolving, adding employees and planning to expand to universities throughout the Southeast and beyond.
“Basically, this summer we really decided to make it a business and relaunch it,” said NoteSwap Vice President David Innis.
The LSU graduate recently left his job with Fox News Digital in New York to help expand the website his former classmates — Ryan Grush and Daniel Patterson — started and still run.
“The demand is there,” Innis said, noting that the site now has more than 30,000 users, up from just more than 1,000 in 2006. “It’s at the stage where it’s really about to take off and explode.”
After starting at LSU, NoteSwap initially expanded to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Auburn University and the University of Georgia.
This summer, Southeastern Louisiana University and Baton Rouge Community College were added, Innis said.
The goal is to add another 50 universities by the end of 2012, he said. That means adding most, if not all, of the colleges in Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi and growing farther regionally, one “grassroots” effort at a time.
Thus far, the format of the site has been simplified and linked in with Facebook to make it easier for students to register and share with their friends, he said.
The website also has added a new “credit” system that prevents new users from taking notes until they have uploaded enough class notes of their own, in order to weed out moochers.
“This system allows us to build a better collection of study material for everyone,” the website states. “If you take the time to upload your hard-earned notes, we think it’s only fair that others return the favor.”
There are plans for other features in the near future, Innis said, as well as a smartphone application.
LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope said professors have mixed feelings on the popularity of students sharing class notes online.
If note-swapping helps more students learn, it can be a good thing, Cope said. But it can also lead to students developing an “overdependence” on such websites.
“It is not inherently a form of cheating, but it can be used for cheating,” Cope said, especially when the “short cut” leads to the intellectual theft of individual thoughts and ideas.
“Students are cheating themselves out of the opportunity to acquire knowledge on their own,” Cope said.
LSU Student Government President Cody Wells said he uses NoteSwap, along with thousands of his LSU colleagues.
“It is a valuable tool for us,” Wells said. “It’s a good way for us to pass information from each other from semester to semester.”
But Wells said the website can be used for “abuse” as well. NoteSwap can encourage students to skip class at times when they think they can just pick up the notes online later, he said.
“But if you don’t ever go to class, it doesn’t matter how many notes you have, you’re not going to do well,” Wells said.
Innis said the website is not about cheating and that NoteSwap management does not want to do anything more “controversial,” such as allowing for test and quiz sharing online.
The goal is to make the business profitable through advertising at first, Innis said. But the plan also is to make the site profitable for its best users.
The idea is to start allowing students to sell their used textbooks on the website and for the best contributors to be able to sell their most thorough notes, Innis said.
As Facebook started at Harvard University and grew through the Ivy League and Stanford University, Innis said the concept is to expand NoteSwap through college towns in the Southeast and eventually go nationally.
Innis likened it to the online version of the business model Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers took by starting at LSU and initially growing near other college campuses.
“We really have a big vision for us to be more than just students swapping notes,” Innis said.