Amherst Bytes: Offering Both Friendliness and Locality, a Student-Run Used-Textbook Site Seeks to Be
By Ricardo Bilton '10, Staff Writer
Perched on the plastic red chairs of an In-N-Out in Southern California in the summer of 2009, two college kids both named Peter had an idea. College students, they concluded while choking down bites of their Double Double Animal Style burgers, really need a better way to locally sell textbooks. After a bit more thinking, and a furious two-week, two-hundred hour programming marathon, was born. But why?

In the grand scheme of things, the Internet has the whole used-textbook economy pretty much covered., eBay’s demented little brother, is likely the most popular choice for used book discounts amongst students, and more than fills in the ensuing gaps. But the differences between large services like Amazon and a small start-up like are apparent. Sole Linnku developer Peter Le ’10 justifies Linnku’s existence on a few fronts. “Of course, Web sites like eBay and Amazon allow students to sell their books,” Le explained, “but there are shipping charges, and the wait time gets annoying. Plus, if students can set their own prices, they can save more money.”

Friendliness is a major selling-point of Linnku, which gets its name via its function — linking students directly to each other. By forcing the buyer and seller to directly communicate, the Web site effectively axes the middle man. The significance of this is twofold. For one, by stripping the transaction of a mediator, Linnku removes the middle man’s stake in the transaction. The result? More profit for the seller and less hassle for both parties. This is how the site separates itself from entities like the College’s student-run bookseller, The Option. Furthermore, by emphasizing intra-campus transactions, Linnku is hitching onto the recent trends back towards hyper-local economies. Le’s logic is that the local transaction oils the gears of efficiency, allowing a rapid resolution to every transaction.

The locality philosophy, then, is embedded into every design choice of Linnku. Users are, for example, given personal profiles, allowing them to upload profile images and list information about themselves. This is one of the many ways that Linnku separates itself from the likes of behemoths like Craigslist. “The Craigslist operational paradigm is flawed in several respects,” said Le. “For one, anonymity encourages irresponsible use. It’s too big and suffers from the same problems of eBay and Amazon. Also, Craigslist is inherently fugly.”

Le hopes to answer a lot of these problems with Linnku. But considering that the site was developed over the course of approximately 200 solitary hours and is currently still in beta, Le still sees room for further improvement. “I want to add a custom RSS feed, maybe a blog and dozens of usability tweaks here and there. Overall, we are counting on user feedback for suggestions.” Indeed, adding users is one of Le’s prime focal points right now. The site has exactly two users — Peter Le himself and me. This, Le admits, is mostly because he is aiming for an official launch date of Feb. 10. After that, he hopes that advertising and word-of-mouth will help to spread news of Linnku across the College campus. Eventually, Le hopes that the concept of Linnku will catch on enough so that he can justify an expansion to other colleges, starting with Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire and University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

But what about the e-book market? Many analysts see the textbook market falling in line with the recent efforts of companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble to make reading a more digital affair. The future, posit these starry-eyed seers, lies in technology like the Kindle. Instead of buying books, students will get them beamed to their devices. It’s an entirely paper-free future.

Le, however, isn’t concerned: “Until the day when Amherst makes all students buy their textbooks electronically, I think the textbook aftermarket will continue to strive.” Moreover, Le notes, you can sell more than just textbooks on Linnku. Le hopes that the site will become the first destination for students looking to sell unwanted items or purchase discounted ones. That means that students can sell anything they think someone else might want — not just textbooks.

Anything? As an experiment, I created a Linnku listing for myself, offering other users some personal time with me in exchange for nothing. It’s a concept listing, one made for the sole purpose of testing Le’s notion that people can sell anything on Linnku and have someone buy it. It’s an experiment only half-complete, however, because as of yet, there have been no offers made for my listing; it remains to be seen whether another Linnku user will make the impulse purchase.

Whether users will flock to Linnku is still unknown, but Le is optimistic: “I think people will really like the site. I can promise you that all the cool kids will be using Linnku eventually. It will be like drugs and alcohol — but free.”

Issue 14, Submitted 2010-02-15 18:41:18