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Stanford profs from DB & Machine Learning class are founding a company Coursera (plus.google.com)
108 points by dhawalhs on Jan 29, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

Daphne Koller was not the DB professor, she was scheduled to teach a class starting this month, but has not taught any online classes yet. The DB teacher was Jennifer Widom, who is not part of the initiative described in the article.

Oops...my bad. Daphne Koller is the instructor for the upcoming Probabilistic Graphical Models class http://www.pgm-class.org/

All I want to know is, will Andrew Ng still teach the ML class on Stanford or only on Coursera now? I haven't taken his new ML class yet but a large part of why I want to sign up for that class in the Spring quarter is because of him.

Are these companies (Coursera here, Udacity for Thrun) going to be non-profits like Khan Academy?

Udacity at least is a VC-backed, for-profit endeavor. They're listed in the portfolio of Charles River Ventures: http://www.crv.com/portfolio

No, both are for-profit. This caused a bit of a stir among their fellow academics.

Seriously? At Stanford? Every professor other than Daphne (I believe) at the AI lab has worked for Google at some point and Stanford is the last place where CS profs look down upon starting companies.

Starting a company wasn't the issue. It's more that for-profit education has a bad reputation (think University of Phoenix). There was some initial concern/confusion.

This is for-profit education, not for-profit degree milling. There's a difference between the two that universities don't like to see.

How is Stanford not a for-profit institution? I'm not trying to be argumentative, I think I must just be missing some distinction.

Non-profit organizations (mostly corporations) are defined as non-profit by having no residual claimants. That means that if there is money left over after the bills have been paid, that money (roughly "profits") does not accrue to any stockholders or other interested parties but can only be used for ongoing operations.

Responsibility is usually held by a board of directors or trustees that appoints its own successors but that is not universal.

Often the managers of a non-profit will balloon their salaries or give bonuses to the board of directors if there is money left over. This is a form of corruption but remains common.

A 501(c)3 corporation in the USA is a type of non-profit that receives special privileges, the most obvious of which is that contributions can be written off the taxes of the donor. To be a 501(c)3, a non-profit corporation has to be former for one of a specific set of public charitable purposes and meet special reporting requirements. The principal purposes that qualify are churches and schools but also include aid to the poor and others.

IRS publication 557 details the rules for 501(c)3 and other tax-exempt non-profit organizations.

It's a 501(c)(3) like most private American universities. This means there are no "owners" who make money if it brings in a profit, but conversely allows it to accept tax-exempt charitable donations.

Non-profit organizations are registered as so to the IRS in the United States:


So what "caused a bit of a stir" was a tax status?

This is awesome.

I guess this is why the 2012 ML class is delayed; I'm wondering if it will still happen :(

Not just the ML course. I signed up for one on human computer interaction, high tech entrepreneurship and lean startup and they have all been delayed indefinitely. It's a pity as I did Sebastian Thun's AI course and it was great and I was looking forward to these others... so the consumer isn't always winning as these companies fight it out, I think they should just put the material out for free it would create many new startups!

Yeah, I'm starting to think none of them are going to happen now.

This article seems to hint that the Stanford administration isn't all that gung ho about the whole thing. http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2012/01/23/145645...

Competition is always good for the customers, so I really like it. I also expect O'Reilly Media to push harder in this direction, it's only natural...

This is an interesting space, mit has their mitx program set to launch this spring as well.


It's surprising that they wouldn't collaborate with Sebastian Thrun (AI), who I think is also founding a company.

In a previous HN thread (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3500301) some commenters suggest there's at least some minor bad blood between Coursera and Udacity as competing "Stanford profs turn online course into a startup" initiatives.

It's not surprising if you understand academic politics. If you go to many research presentations, you'll be amazed to see people openly deriding the presenter's work to their face. Collaboration is something valued by people who greatly depend on others. So it's normal for most people to think that collaboration is something that is desirable, and it is for the average person. If you are trying to be the world's leading expert in something that no one else understands, depending on others will be an avenue of attack for your detractors. It is far better for a very capable person to take on market forces rather than internal politics.

As a disclaimer: I don't claim to understand academic politics. Having said that, I think you need some sort of citation or at the very least a stronger argument to back up the statement that "collaboration is something valued by people who greatly depend on others". To a non-involved observer such as myself, what you're describing (in a positive tone?) just sounds petty and extremely unproductive for everyone involved, whether they're average or "very capable".

If one depends greatly on someone else to achieve things, then by definition they value collaboration. I assume we are still talking about academics because there could exist people who simply don't want to accomplish anything and therefore don't value collaboration. It's no secret either that people who are highly capable don't need collaboration except to meet societal and political expectations or to reduce their workload. Again, that follows from the definition of highly capable.

What would be a far more interesting research topic would be to measure negative reaction to any notion that some people can work better alone and any correlations those sentiments might entail.

I'm sorry for being dense, but you still haven't convinced me that "people who are highly capable don't need collaboration" is implied by the definition of "highly capable". Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, etc. - these people are all highly capable and all collaborated to achieve their greatest successes. Are we using different definitions of "collaboration"?

Your proposed research topic would be a lot more interesting without the inherent bias you introduce by measuring only the correlations of negative reaction and ignoring any correlations to positive reaction.

There's no evidence that their success was due to collaboration and I only said they don't need to collaborate, not that they don't collaborate. On the contrary, in the Bill G and Steve J cases, the general public overwhelmingly attribute the success of their respective companies to the individual and not to their choice in co-founders.

I know this is an old thread, but I just saw your response. And... I don't quite know what to say, besides that it seems ridiculously offensive to the hundreds and hundreds of people that made Microsoft and Apple what they are.

I don't know what type of evidence you're looking for, and I don't know what it has to do with co-founders, but it seems pretty obvious to me that one person couldn't have designed every piece of Apple hardware or software or every version of Windows. That's why we invented collaboration - it gives extremely productive people a multiplier.

Hearsay: there was some competing visions on how they wanted to scale online education in the School of Computer Science as well as the School of Engineering.

Just curious ... what would people be willing to pay for the courses? Especially if it meant some kind of official recognition or certificate.

I don't get why they would cooperate with the dude from the ML class

Imho ML class was the best of the three. I am more interested in the application side of CS and Andrew Ng really nailed that aspect in my opinion.

You have some complaints about the ML class?

I found the course way too easy. This announcement makes me think they're going to get around this - not being part of Stanford means they don't have to worry about cannibalizing paying students. Maybe.

Sorry I meant to say wouldn't. I'm sure they could together create a bigger impact then seperate

Andrew Ng is the dude of ML Class. Do you mean why wouldn't they collaborate with the dude(s) of AI Class?

yeah, thats what i meant

Delivering education is changing across the world. First, we hear about Sebastian Thrun. Now, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller!

I don't see the funny side of downvoting comments here on HN. Pathetic!

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