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If two Harvard undergraduates have their way, CollegeBeans.com will make the Yard bulletin boards obsolete.
Andrew S. Chung '01 and Matthew C. Ebbel '01 have created a Web site that provides a used goods market and information service for college students.
The old-fashioned method of reselling textbooks--posting a few bright flyers on bulletin boards around Harvard, getting a call, making a few bucks--can now be done entirely online.
The students' site began in April 1999, when Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) awarded the idea $5,000, the first prize in HSA's annual entrepreneur contest.
HSA gave the business, then called HarvardMarket.com, office space. Over the summer, Chung, Ebbel and colleague Jay Moorthi '01 worked full-time on the project, and in late July, the site was reborn under the name CollegeBeans.com.
Ebbel said the site operates in a manner similar to eBay, the popular online auction site. But CollegeBeans.com is more reliable, he said, because buyers and sellers are physically closer together.
"With eBay there's an element of trust. Here, you just walk over to your friend's place [and pick up the item]," Ebbel said.
According to Ebbel, about 100 items have been posted to the site, including 90 books. He said the site receives about 500 hits per day.
"It was pretty easy to use and really good for searching for textbooks," said Jennifer Rosario '01, a Quincy House resident who bought textbooks and saved about $30.
Chung, who lives in Cabot House, stressed that CollegeBeans.com is primarily a service, not a business, although the site's creators are soliciting advertisements.
"We're looking for ways the Web can help college students," Chung said. Without the Internet, "you have to post up papers or send lots of e-mails and annoy your friends."
The textbook marketplace has attracted most attention from users, but Ebbel said the site's more helpful feature is another section.
"The page most valuable is called 'My Campus,'" Ebbel said. "It has events that aren't covered by any other calendar--student events, comp meetings. If it applies to everyone on campus, we'll put that up."
Harvard's official calendar lists examination schedules and study card due-dates. The Harvard section of CollegeBeans.com includes links to library hours, movie showtimes, dining hall menus and the phone number of Dial-A-Pizza.
Ebbel said a branch of CollegeBeans.com at the University of California at Los Angeles will be operational within a few days. Affiliated sites at MIT, Boston University and Boston College are also in the works.
Chung said the site will be developed further in November, but he declined to say what the nature of the changes would be.
Ebbel said CollegeBeans.com was contemplating a merger with another college online service called DailyJolt.com, which serves Amherst College and Brown University.
"We're behind the game for this semester's exchange," Ebbel said, since the textbook sales season is waning.
Ebbel said CollegeBeans.com has spent about $1,500 of the $5,000 HSA prize.
He added that Amazon.com and other Internet businesses are not yet making money, and that he doesn't expect to soon.
"The real value will be if you build up a good user base and get picked up [by a larger company]," he said.
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