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ND earns Sporcle top-five ranking

Laura Myers | Wednesday, December 8, 2010

When senior Katie Snyder had to learn all of the countries in Africa for a political science class last semester, she knew where she would turn to study. She was one step ahead of her professor when he suggested several websites to the class, including social gaming website Sporcle.

“I had been planning on using it before he mentioned it,” Snyder said. “I always play the map games on Sporcle.”

In fact, Snyder is using the site again this semester to help learn the countries of the Middle East for a history class.

Sporcle, which features games in which players fill in blanks in response to categories or trivia questions, is popular among workplaces and on college campuses, Sporcle’s vice president of products Derek Pharr said.

A recent upswing in usage by college students led the website to make college rankings. Notre Dame has held steady at No. 5 each week of the rankings, which are calculated from factors including number of visits, number of page views and time spent on the site, Pharr said. The first rankings were released based on data from Nov. 14-20.

In the fourth list of college rankings, released Tuesday and reflecting usage statistics from the past week, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio State and Boston College were ahead of Notre Dame.

While Snyder used the site to study, many students said it is more of a good distraction. Pharr said the site could be both.

“We can be an educational, mentally stimulating diversion, but on the other side we can be the destination to spend a little time and get away from things,” he said.

Juniors Shane Owens, Robert Cahill and Jake Hubbard agreed their favorite game category is Sports.

“[Hubbard] did all the NFL teams in a minute and a half,” Owens said.

“Yeah, I’m pretty special,” Hubbard said.

However, students agreed the intellectual nature of the site allows them to feel better about taking a study break.

“I delude myself into thinking I’m learning,” sophomore Stephanie Jones said. “But the motivation is purely recreational.”

Snyder said she wouldn’t have used the site to learn if it didn’t have fun quizzes as well.

“The fun is the only thing that makes you want to do the academic part of it,” she said. “And then I could procrastinate on other things by playing Sporcle because it’s academic, so I could feel like I was being productive.”

Pharr said the timing of the release of rankings leading up to most colleges’ study days and finals weeks was not a total coincidence.

“We hoped we could hit college students at a time when they could use it to study for finals and to get away from finals,” he said.

Jones, who said she goes on Sporcle at least one day a week, predicted her usage would go up as finals approach.

The release of the rankings also coincided with the weekly updates of college football’s Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings, which Sporcle references as a joke on the website to explain its mathematical formula, saying its formula is “simpler than the BCS” but that they might “change the formula from time to time, just like the BCS.”

“We wanted to explain what we were doing without too much detail,” Pharr said. “We figured ‘It’s complicated what we’re doing, but there are systems that are more complicated, like the BCS.'”

Like the BCS, though, Pharr said the rankings play off of the competitive nature of colleges to attract more students to the website.

“College football, college basketball has a rich rivalry history,” he said. “We’ve already seen a very positive and spirited response to what we’ve been doing. We’d love to see that grow.

“Those play out on a big stage, and we’d like Sporcle to be a stage for that as well. We see it all as one big healthy debate.”

The feeling of competition definitely stirred when students found out Notre Dame was behind traditional rivals Michigan and Boston College.

“I’d rather beat them in football,” Hubbard said, “but Sporcle would be next.”