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Revamped Student Web Site Offers Comparison, Used Book Shopping

By Rachel L. Brown, Contributing Writer

Three students who founded an Internet book-buying site last semester have given their site a facelift and a name change.

The juniors who developed the "Flying Chickens" Web site in September have now expanded their services and their audience with their new site, www.limespot.com.

Limespot (a combination of the words "limelight" and "spotlight") offers the same comparison shopping for Harvard classes among five major on-line booksellers as the previous site, www.flyingchickens.com. The new site features added student services, including a used book exchange and an events database of on-campus activities.

The students say they expect Limespot to build on the success of Flying Chickens.

"We were very encouraged by last semester's success and the popularity of the site, with over one-third of the student body logging on," said Johann M. Schleier-Smith '01, one of the founders of the site.

According to another founder, Greg Y. Tseng '01, 2,000 students visited the site and 400 made their book purchases there.

Tseng said the three founders netted between $500 and $800 in commissions from the book merchants.

Aviva A. Geiger '01, Schleier-Smith and Tseng, the founders of the original site, incorporated students' suggestions when creating the new and improved page.

Students' chief concern was shipping costs.

"That's the main thing that people are skeptical about," Tseng said. "We have a new algorithm that adds on the shipping costs, [which] differ depending on the amount of books."

The merchant selection has also been adjusted.

"From last semester, some of [the merchants] have changed because of the response we've gotten," Schleier-Smith said. "Barnes and Noble has been added by popular demand."

The founders say Harvard students will be particularly interested in a contest on the site, which consists of a prize of a free semester of books, up to a value of $300. After buying books through the site, customers can input their e-mail addresses to enter the contest. The winner will be drawn on Feb. 9, the day study cards are due.

Through a new partnership with a group of Cornell students who originally owned Limespot.com, the three Harvard founders have expanded their site to cover 30 different colleges and universities. Tseng says this step was not a difficult one to take.

"The main core concept in all the computer code is standard for each school," Tseng said. "The way you personalize [for a school] is through the data--textbook lists--and you also need marketing."

The founders hope the two new features, the used book exchange and events database, will keep students returning to the site.

"The bigger rip-off [at the Coop] is used books," Tseng said.

Owners of used books can advertise on Limespot.com. When students use the site's database to search for the textbooks they need, an additional icon will appear if a used version is for sale by another student.

The business receives no profits from used book exchanges.

The biggest challenge faced by the entrepreneurs is compiling course book titles. Since Harvard has no centralized system providing this data, Geiger, who is responsible for course information input, is forced to be creative.

"I do a bunch of cross-referencing sources that are available on-line, including course Web sites and library course reserves," Geiger said. "This gives us a pretty complete list."

The events database is designed for students to post information about informal parties and gatherings.

"At Harvard, there isn't really a centralized place to get party information, so it'd be nice to have this location where everyone can just go," Tseng said.

The three founders hope the events database and the used book exchange will differentiate their site from competitors like U.C. Books, a similar service debuted this semester by the Undergraduate Council.

"There's certainly a degree of competition in the textbook aspect of the Web site," Schleier-Smith said. "But we're hoping that Limespot will offer a more comprehensive set of student services."

The original site was born out of frustration with the high retail prices Harvard students pay for their books.

"We had the idea that it was possible to save a lot of money on the Internet on textbooks," Schleier-Smith said. "[Our site] allows students to compare and find the best on-line deal."

However, some are concerned about on-line services negatively affecting the Coop's business and its ability to serve students.

Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis '68 said that the Coop takes considerable risks by making all books requested by professors available to students.

"Price competition by mass marketing works best on volume purchases, especially purchases of books needed by many institutions," Lewis said. "Harvard would be in real trouble if the impact of the on-line booksellers was to have the Coop lose the high-volume sales and to have it left with only the market in low-volume, high-overhead books."

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