James McAulay, founder of WhichMayBall, is a go-getter. I’d set the time and date for the interview, only to be rather unfortunately ill at the said time. No matter – James went to the Porters’ Lodge at Caius, had them ring me before coming up to my room himself, fresh cup of Nero coffee in hand. I awoke from one of those turgid daytime sleeps you only have when you’re ill to find a very eager interviewee at my door. That attitude is the same attitude that’s driven the success of WhichMayBall, the project he launched in 2012 that is now the go-to place for information, know-how and savvy-say on all things May Week related. At a mercifully later date, I got the chance to chat to him and his successor, David Roper, about it.
What made you start Which May Ball?
Shortly after Fitzwilliam Winter Ball in 2012, a group of friends and myself were starting to plan our May Week by way of Facebook messenger, which was fairly messy. Wikipedia had a few sparse details, and we had heard tenuous rumours of Committee Presidents getting drunk and revealing details in the smoking area of Life, but otherwise, we were just as uninformed as almost every other student in Cambridge.
I decided to whip round all of the Ball and June Event websites that existed at the time and collate all of the information in one place. Six hours later, a single-page version of WhichMayBall was launched with nothing but a title, a table, and a slightly blurry background image, and after receiving around 1,300 hits between 6pm and midnight that evening, I decided to expand the table into something more.
Where do you get your information from?
In second year, I spent a lot of time routinely checking the Facebook pages and websites of each May Ball and June Event, and during Exam term I did the same for Garden Parties, which was necessary when building WhichMayBall as a brand and delivering information as soon as it was available, but time consuming as a student with exams to sit.
By third year I definitely didn’t have time for that, and sent an email to the President of each Ball committee to reverse the flow of information so that they send details to me when they were announced. This worked wonders, and meant that I could get on with other things (like actually getting a degree) and the Ball Committees could still benefit from the free publicity and buzz that we offer both on our website and the Facebook page.
What's the future for WhichMayBall?
Obviously we want to keep WhichMayBall moving forward in terms of views and engagement. I was busy in the first week of term launching a new facet of the service, WhichMayBall Sessions. Basically we’re aiming to get the people who we think are going to make a big impact this May Week in to do some live sessions. Guy Emanuel came into do a track last week and did a really fantastic job. We’ve got the excellent Hunter Allen to come in to shoot, and I do the sound production.
We’re hoping to send WhichMayBall reviewers into Balls this year, with the view to incorporating a star rating to display alongside next year’s Ball listings from an average of ours and others' reviews from previous years.
What are you up to now that you've left Cambridge?
I’ve just launched a new website exclusively in Cambridge with another Cambridge graduate James King, called Encore! I did a lot of performing throughout my University career, and so I knew that finding musicians when assembling an orchestra was hard, and finding them at short notice was even harder. I also knew that many musicians wanted (and often needed) a web presence, but simply didn’t have the time or money to invest in a personal website, and so a couple of months ago, I began work on a website designed to solve these problems, and was helped by EF, a tech accelerator..
Every musician in Cambridge would be able to create a profile listing basic information such as their instrument and College, as well as an always-up-to-date diary of their upcoming concerts based on concert listings they had been added to, and once we had a prototype, we gradually started getting a core group of friends on the system to try it out and help us refine it into something people would really want to use.