Kuwait's myU shows promise in beta; can it scale?

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Social networking is seen in many schools and colleges as a distraction best avoided for students aiming for the top grades. But for Bader Alessa, founder of Kuwait-based app myU, social communities can be created to change the way students interact with their universities both in studies and extracurricular activities. 

Alessa started the initial concept design for myU in May 2012 and pushed the app live on App Store in December 2013, followed by an Android launch in April 2014.

The product is now in its beta testing phase in three different colleges in Kuwait with around 2,500 users and the plan is to expand across the Kuwaiti higher education sector and enter other countries in the Middle East.

“During my time at college [in the US, graduating in 2011], we relied heavily on email to be our only off-class communication tool,” said Alessa. “While being effective, email didn’t give us the social and fun parts of the school experience, and often lacked mobility and real-time aspects. People today rely on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Instagram for their day-to-day communication. myU was inspired by those tools, but with an emphasis on school identity.”  

Starting as a general idea for an app that would connect members of a school community, myU went through a series of stages of refinement. Alessa says that the app finally found its niche as an internal social community, within each school, made up of faculty members, clubs, organizations, and students. 

When asked why students should be using their app rather than just sticking with Facebook Alessa states that is more in competition with a school’s internal communication system, like the blackboard or the email, rather than Facebook. “The competitive advantage of myU,” he says, “is it's ease and mobility.” Also, with each community being built around a school or institution, users are only privy to the information on that campus.

Faculty members can send class announcements to students, clubs and organisations promote their events and expand their reach on campus, while students can receive their class and school content, interact with other members of the school and expand their reach on campus through creating pages and gaining followers. Each user’s relevant content is viewed in the form of a newsfeed. 

“At the time of the initial concept design in May 2012 I didn't have the most basic understanding of the process of building software or the different factors involved. I went through the learning process with all its ups and downs,” said Alessa.

“I realized that to bring my vision to reality, I had to be involved in the entire process of building the app. It was challenging to get my hand over the coding part, and finding good developers has always been difficulty. But the entire process boils down to how the app will look and feel in the hands of users,” he added.

The app operated at low visibility until it was completed on Android in April 2014, when it was introduced into the market to gain more 

According to Alessa, the generation gap means that university professors have been slower to adapt to using the app than some of the product’s younger users. feedback from users. It soon became recommended to two separate colleges in Kuwait. Alessa is now preparing to launch myU version two, which will be a “huge leap forward”.

“Many prefer to stick with their own way, and others don’t yet have a smartphone. As a strategy, we started targeting professors who have experienced the world’s trend towards social media and mobile communication,” said the founder.“We found professors of this generation very receptive to myU as a tool for helping them communicate with their students.” In turn Alessa says that students using the app found value in myU when their faculty members were using it and as a result when it came to the target audience for the second version of the app, professors were first on the agenda.

Many professors who used Twitter to communicate with their classes found myU to be an alternative that shifts their class announcements away from their personal Twitter profiles, he added. Some used myU to support existing to tools and others became fully dependent on it for announcements, grades and even to receive homework answers.

myU us currently being used at universities including Gulf University for Science and Technology (GUST) and the College of Business Administration of Kuwait University. After myU version 2 is launched Alessa aims to cover all the higher education institutions in Kuwait and has had initial talks with people in Bahrain and Jordan interested in taking control of the service in their areas.

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