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Ybay? Why not?

By Alexander Potter

KUSHAL DAVE/YH

A new alternative is available for top-bunk-cursed Yalies who are fed up with their ritual chair-to-dresser-to-bed leap: your very own bunk bed ladder, available for $25 from www.ybay.org, Yale's new free online classified ad service. All that you need to do is click on the Furniture and Appliances link.

Ybay, the brainchild of David Slifka, JE '01, and David Nir '00, is an online bazaar where members of the Yale community can peddle their wares or browse through six sections of commodities, ranging from computers to sublets to the ever- popular textbooks. Items for sale include a blender ($10), a 17-inch computer monitor ($225), and a four-door '86 Plymouth ($350).

Slifka credits Nir with the original concept for the site. He said, "I was thrilled when Dave told me about his plan for the site. It's one of those really good Internet ideas that makes you say `of course!'" He believes there is a void on campus that Ybay can fill. "It is so needed. There is no other good way to do all this stuff in one place."

And fill the void it has. Since it first went online Wed., Sept. 25, Ybay has grown to include about 100 posted ads and now attracts several new users per day. Nir has already received 6 calls in reply to an ad to sell his futon.

Students think Ybay is an interesting idea. Gavin Pratt, JE '01, feels that Ybay will play a necessary role on campus. "I think it's exciting that Yale students now have a way of getting the same books, furniture, and computers at cheaper prices," he said. "Ybay has really filled a needed niche on campus, and I look forward to using it."

David Anjelly, ES '01, is tired of the traditional way goods have been traded at Yale. "I think Ybay is a totally awesome idea and has great potential once students start posting to it," he said. "A concise, easily navigable webpage is a much more appealing marketplace than a rained-on kiosk or a cluttered post-office wall." Indeed, with clubs and frats recruiting heavily, official advertising space has been scarce on campus in the last couple of weeks, forcing groups to turn toward alternate methods such as stapling to wooden fences and trees. Ybay, once established, could alleviate the advertising crunch.

But Jonathan Burt, TD '01, doesn't think that will ever happen. "Ybay's growth up to now has been due to transient factors, such as the demand for textbooks and people setting up new dorm rooms and taking old junk out of storage," he said. "Once shopping period passes us by, so will Ybay."

Although Slifka admitted that he has not received much feedback from students, "Every response received has been positive," he said. The majority of the mail that Nir and Slifka deal with is from users who have made a sale and would like their ad removed from the site, a feature that has not yet been incorporated into the page's options for users. This kind of upkeep is part of the maintenance of the site, which Slifka says takes several hours per week. The biggest time commitment was setting up the site, which was done solely by Nir and Slifka while other upperclassmen were doing things like leading FOOT trips, counseling at Freshperson Conference, or working for FOCUS. "We first started talking about Ybay in July, but the real work started one week before people started showing up," Slifka said. "Most of it was done over three or four all-nighters and one big one the night before classes."

In contrast to their last-minute, Mamoun's-fueled effort, things did not always run smoothly for Dave and Dave. Yale would not give them the access they needed to run their software and store large databases on its servers because they are not yet an officially registered undergraduate organization. "We needed cgi-bin access to run our own scripts, but the Yale webmaster wouldn't e-mail us back," Slifka said. However, he understood, "It can be dangerous to give cgi-bin access to just anyone because a bad script can corrupt the entire system."

Spurned by Yale with only a short time before classes were to start, Nir and Slifka needed a solution fast. They found it in the form of I-Depth, a web-based service that runs software to which it leases access. It offers a myriad of functions, including secure credit-card order forms, forums that turn a website into a message board, and a postcard-sending program. Using this service, Dave and Dave saved countless man-hours from the project since they did not have to write their own software. Instead, Slifka, a self-professed "fallen computer science major," explained, "We run the front end of Ybay off of my Pantheon account. Every time a user clicks on a search link or inputs any data, we send it to I-Depth for processing. Some of their functions were not exactly what we wanted, so I modified them, but they do all the hard stuff."

The ease of using I-Depth comes at a price. Slifka and Nir shelled out several hundred dollars to start Ybay and pay $10 per month to maintain it. Yet, they are committed to keeping the site totally free: they have not put up a single commercial advertisement and do not charge a commission for the sales they arrange. Slifka was not surprised when questioned about this magnanimous philosophy. "You don't do anything on the web without someone asking, `When's the IPO?'" But, he explains, "Hopefully Ybay will become a large part of the Yale community, and we will have started it. It was rewarding to do it." Ybay's `.org' suffix was chosen to reflect its non-profit mentality. Once Yale sets up the registration webpage, Slifka and Nir are planning to make Ybay an official undergraduate organization so that Undergraduate Organization Funding Commitee will pick up their tab and so they can get more network privileges from Yale. "I-Depth is not a permanent solution," Slifka said. "We used it so we could be up before classes begin. The next step is to move the whole site onto Yale servers." He is currently working on software to replace the I-Depth functions.

Ybay is not the only online marketplace that Yalies can turn to for cheap used goods. Many commercial sites aimed at college students have popped up recently, including booktrader.com, varsitybooks.com, ecampus.com, bigwords.com, efollett.com, textbooks.com, and bidcampus.com. They deal mostly in new and used textbooks, although bidcampus.com is an online auction house that trades all goods, trying to pair up buyers and sellers from the same university. These sites have large customer bases to work with and offer promotional programs and glitzy advertisements. Slifka is not worried about competing with the big dogs for Yalies' books and tradable treasures. "They are in the textbook business. They're a middleman, taking a cut for themselves. People want to see that a book is from a Yalie and be able to make a call using 5 digits. And, it's easier being local."

In fact, word of mouth has been the most effective publicity for Ybay. When Sindy Chen, JE '00, found out that her friend had bought books on the site, she instantly decided to post her own ad. "Sam [Stubblefield, JE '00] told me he bought a bunch of textbooks from Ybay, so I'm going to advertise mine there right away," she said. Ybay's lack of commerical ads was an attraction for David Anjelly: "I'll definitely check out Ybay before I turn to sites like ecampus. How could I live with myself shopping from a website with commercials that are so lame?"

National sites are not Ybay's only competition. For over a decade, The Used Book Agency (TUBA) has been serving the Yale community, and it currently has over 4,000 books on its shelves. Peter Reidhead, ES '00, a TUBA student coordinator, doesn't think Ybay will last more than a year or two. "It will die when Dave Slifka and Dave Nir graduate, while we've been around over 10 years," he said. "Students enjoy looking at the titles on the shelves, which you can't do from a webpage. However, we are moving in that direction as we've placed our inventory online. Ybay's an interesting idea, but it's not viable in the long term as a purely philanthropic endeavor." Slifka feels Ybay's policy of not charging will keep students coming back, in light of the 25% commission TUBA takes from each sale. However, both Reidhead and Slifka expressed interest in working together in the future.

Slifka and Nir still have big plans for Ybay. "Everything that has to be postered now, with the possible exception of events, will be on Ybay," Slifka says. Psychology and medical experiments, a ride-board, and a personal-ad listings are in the works. Dave and Dave are looking forward to it. "Once you are established, there are many things you can do. The hard part is getting there," Slifka said.

When asked about Ybay, Edward West, ES '01, made an understandable mistake. "Ybay? Do you mean ebay?" Slifka is not concerned about possible confusion with the popular online auctioneer ebay. He smiles and says, "I'm taking Computers and the Law."

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