Most college students can attest to the struggles of working on a limited budget, especially given the economic realities of the present day. Buying textbooks doesn't help this - the textbook industry holds a near-monopoly on the market, which has allowed them to engage in deceptive practices and agreements with schools, professors, and each other that result in higher prices for students and more profits for these companies.
In short, we were inspired because we're poor.
What it does
Bookslug (an unimaginative play on bookworm) matches students in need of textbooks with students willing to trade them within college campuses by taking advantage of the campus's Academic Information System. Students are matched not by which books they have, but by which classes they have.
Bookslug allows users to select which classes they're enrolled in to find and trade textbooks quickly. It's different than other existing solutions (such as online stores such as Amazon or buying directly from the publisher) because it revolves around the campus community. This holds a number of benefits:
- First, as students are located at the same campus, shipping is cut out of the equation, resulting in lower costs and faster textbook delivery. This has the additional benefit of allowing users to see textbooks before they are purchased, as both the sender and recipient are on campus.
- Second, trading textbooks with students from the same campus matched by class means that there is a high degree of confidence that the textbooks received are the correct books, and that those textbooks are required by the professor.
- Third, the process of searching for and trading textbooks is streamlined. No more trying to decide between different versions or editions of textbooks when looking to buy, or typing in ISBNs when trying to sell: because we have access to the schedule of classes in the quarter and their required materials, we can infer the aforementioned without significant work on the part of the user.
How we built it
Bookslug works around the information provided by UC Santa Cruz's Academic Information System (AIS), which lists all sessions of all classes offered and any and all relevant details on those classes, including what textbooks are required. The project runs on the Google Cloud Platform, with the data stored on Google Cloud SQL, static and frontend assets served quickly from Google Cloud CDN, and the Python/Flask backend hosted on Google App Engine.
Challenges we ran into
Access to the AIS is unofficial - it revolves (to put it generously) a level of reverse engineering and web crawling to assemble. This is solved by periodically re-crawling the AIS (with generous rate limiting to avoid undue stress on university resources) to update Bookslug's copy of the information.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
What we learned
What's next for bookslug
Bookslug's business model can be feasibly extended to other college campuses, as most if not all colleges offer the same information in a fashion that can be similarly collected.
With some more work, Bookslug could be used to proactively prepare students for classes (and push engagement) by identifying what courses the user is likely to take given their current courses (e.g. if a student takes Math I in one quarter, they are likely to take Math II in the next).