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UW restricts automated registration tools

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Photo Illustration Photo by Joshua Bessex

Sophomore Nick Martindell was sitting on a bus Jan. 8 when he received an unexpected email from the UW Office of the Registrar. The email stated his UW NetID was making excessive hits to the UW Time Schedule and registration systems and instructed him to reduce activity within 24 hours to prevent continued system abuse.

Martindell, who created UWReggie.com, learned from the email that the registration notification service he has provided to UW students since winter quarter 2012 is in direct violation of university policy.

“I shut down the website from my cellphone and later that night when I got back, sat down and emailed our 450 users saying, ‘Sorry guys, but that free [service] you use is gone,”” Martindell said. 

Another email was sent from the registrar’s office to all registered students early last week reminding them about the university’s registration policy, which states the “use of robots and other automated tools to submit registration requests is expressly forbidden.”

The specific language about the use of automated notification services was added in autumn 2012 to address higher volumes of traffic during the last year and a half, but this is the first time the university has followed up with individual students about excessive usage, according to acting Associate Registrar Matt Winslow.

“We have experienced in the past considerable drag on the system, especially during high peak times like registration, that becomes a negative for all students involved,” Winslow said. “Mostly the reason for the policy is to try to keep it level.”

On peak days during registration, 3,000 or more transactions per minute occur on the UW system. Hugh Parker, student program manager for UW-IT Academic Services said each one of these transactions charges the university in addition to degrading the performance of the system. Parker said the university wants those attempts to be made by individual students.

Sites like UWReggie.com and the popular UWRobot.com, which was launched in 2008, have the capacity to cause undue stress on the UW system by repeatedly checking the status of closed classes, especially during freshman and sophomore registration periods.

“People get more frustrated during those times,” Parker said. “So everything combines to create these small little perfect storms of system slowness and just a lot of unnecessary transactions that aren’t really accomplishing anything.”

One of the university’s main concerns is that all students have equal opportunity to register for the classes they need, which cannot necessarily be provided by unaffiliated notification sites. 

Dave Rodenbaugh, who took over operations for UWRobot.com in October, sympathizes with this idea.

“I believe the university is trying to ensure that all students have equal access to registration notification systems,” Rodenbaugh wrote in an email. “That’s a reasonable goal. For the past five years, the need for students to find class openings existed and UW didn’t have anything substantial in place to support that need. UWRobot filled that void.”

The university does recognize the popularity of sites like UWReggie.com and UWRobot.com among students and plans to implement its own notification service, which is expected to operate more efficiently and minimize degradation of the UW system.

A specific timeline for its release has yet to be announced, but Winslow said the university would try to release it as soon as possible. 

“One of the reasons why we’re trying to move as fast as we can is because, by asking the Robot and the Reggie and the others that received the letter from the registrar to stop doing this, we do realize that we’re removing something that is of value to students and we want to replace it as soon as we can,” he said.

The current plan is to integrate the tool with the time schedule and registration systems and will allow students to subscribe to receive notifications regarding specific classes. Then, when a class first closes or closes and then opens up again, subscribers will be notified by email or SMS text. Winslow stressed, however, that the tool is still in development and could evolve in different ways before its release.

Reach reporter Lauren Smith at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: smithlm12

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