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MIT411 Is Back, With Competition

By Beckett W. Sterner
NEWS EDITOR

Despite appearances, MIT411, a Web site that allows MIT students to sell and purchase used textbooks and browse nearby restaurant menus, has not shut down forever, although two new sites, MIT412 and CampusBeacon, have sprung up as competition.

The Web site for MIT411 (http://www.mit411.com) was not functional as of last night, although founder Mark Rosen ’02 said that he and some of his friends at MIT are working to have the site up by this week or next.

In past years, at any given time, MIT411 had between 1500 and 1800 books for sale, Rosen said. A count last night found 242 books listed on MIT412 (http://www.mit412.com) and 169 on CampusBeacon (http://www.campusbeacon.com).

MIT412 is the only site of the three that currently lists restaurant menus. Trevor T. Chang ’07, a CampusBeacon employee, said that the site will open its restaurant feature in two or three weeks. CampusFood (http://www.campusfood.com), unrelated to CampusBeacon, is a national business allowing students to order food online from nearby restaurants.

MIT411 founder buys back site

After graduating, Rosen sold MIT411 to Raymond Morales ’02 for about $300, Rosen said. He said, though, that Morales ultimately was too busy to develop the site further, and hence is selling the site back to Rosen.

During the transfer of the Web domain this summer, MIT411 was unavailable, which led many to believe that the service had permanently stopped. Rosen said he does not know why the domain name www.mit411.com linked to a Massachusetts Association of Special Education Parent Advisory Council’s Web site while it was being transferred.

“I’ve gotten like a ton of e-mails from people … they want to see MIT411 again,” said Rosen, who is now working full-time at Merrill Lynch in New York. He said he and several of his friends who are PhD students at MIT are working to get the book exchange up by the beginning of this week. The restaurants listing will follow a week or two later, he said.

Plans for future changes in the site are mainly to “improve on what MIT411 had,” he said. “After that, my friends have a lot of suggestions, like integrating with Google Maps for restaurants.”

The newest incarnation of MIT411 will have improved longevity, Rosen said. “My friends are going to be there for a really long time.”

New sites compete for users

With the creation of MIT412, a non-profit service, and CampusBeacon, a for-profit business, MIT411 suddenly has more competition for MIT students’ attention.

CampusBeacon grew out of a previous project called HSBookmark for high school textbooks, Chang said. This time, however, the five students working on the site decided to “aim towards a student services portal,” he said.

Chang said they were “looking to create a user review community,” similar to the Amazon.com system of reviews, and possibly later this year create a new events listing service for the campus.

Although the site is for-profit, all services will be free, Chang said, and possible revenue sources include advertising and fees for restaurants who want to list special promotions on the site.

He said the incentives to maintain and develop a service were higher for a business, and that “we have started to give serious consideration to continue this beyond graduation.”

MIT412 creator Nicholas Tham Ming Qiang ’07 said that when MIT411 seemed to have shut down, he decided to recreate the service over the summer.

“I thought this would be a cool summer project,” he said. His main design goals were to mimic the general layout of MIT411, and “to make it as fast as possible.”

“In terms of revamping the site, I don’t think I’ll do major work on it until next summer” unless there is great demand from students, he said.

Asked about what will happen with three sites competing for students’ listings, Qiang said “the most messed up thing might be if people don’t know which one to go to” and end up splitting between all three sites.