Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass Bookswap program takes off

After a year of development, students at the University of Massachusetts now have a new, more affordable source to buy their textbooks. Developed and designed by UMass students in a coordinated effort by the UMass Student Government Association and the Association for Computing Machinery – the UMass Computer Science club – the free, user-based social application became available to Five College students April 7.

Modeled after larger textbook swap websites, UMass Bookswap is aimed specifically at Five College students in the hopes of creating a localized experience. After registering with the website using a Five College email address, users can post the textbooks they want to sell or trade, or search for textbooks they need. The site’s creators aimed to keep the platform simple, user-friendly and to help users save a lot of money.

During the previous year’s SGA election, the victorious Brandon Tower/Mike Fox administration had pushed a platform promising more student input into improvements they wanted to make during their tenure. Their campaign, “UMass that UMade,” gathered feedback from students they met on the campaign trail, ultimately leading the two to discover that high textbook prices were a persistent concern.

After assuming office last spring, the Tower/Fox administration selected senior economics major Sam Azar as the Secretary of Web and Media Management for the SGA. According to Azar, SGA President Brandon Tower proposed the project during Azar’s interview, asking whether such a project could be completed within the year, to which Azar satisfactorily responded.

“During the campaign, students expressed their concern with what they believed to be unfair buyback prices of the Textbook Annex and felt that they were losing a lot of money if the edition of a book they had bought that semester will no longer be used,” said Azar.

After establishing their executive board, the SGA reached out to UMass Computer Science Department Academic Chair Dr. Robert Moll. Moll suggested contacting ACM Club President Mario Barrenechea, who saw an opportunity for a partnership.

“Sam and I decided to approach this as a software engineering project, which is a long and grueling process of getting closer to your teammates, developing software, and going through formal requirements,” said Barrenechea.

From that moment early last April, Azar became the SGA project manager and Barranechea served as the project manager for the ACM. Holding meetings over the summer break, the project managers developed requirements for what the site would look like and held weekly phone meetings to ensure they stayed on track.

“We realized that we needed manpower – we needed developers and we pushed for hiring a team of developers,” said Barrenechea.

Last fall, Azar and Barrenechea decided to hire two permanent, paid project members. With the allocation of a small amount of funds of around $3,000 – a fraction of the cost that would be charged by professional developers – the managers interviewed job applicants, and hired senior computer science major Chris Childs as the developer, and freshman computer science major Matt Rheault as the Web designer.

Originally, Azar and Barrenechea planned to run the textbook swap through the UMass server, but after being told by UMass Office of Information Technology that this would not be possible, the developers decided to settle for a third party server, although they hope to be able to place it on the UMass server in the future.

“I’m hoping to see that this will go up on the UMass server, I think it is something the school could be proud of its students doing. I think it should be better publicized by the school,” said Azar.

The network was delivered on time and is now accessible. Currently, the developers are actively promoting the website, publicizing it through flyers and a Facebook page. A demo night is expected to be scheduled shortly, where developer Childs will walk attendees through the site’s functions.

“We’re trying to get the word out there; we’re a new site, we’re not even a month old since the launch,” added Azar. “It’s been a long year, but now we are in the marketplace and now we are trying to get users. The value of the site depends on users. We have confidence because this is something the students asked for.”

Throughout the process, both developing parties thoroughly bonded and look forward to further cooperation on future projects.

“It’s been wonderful working with the SGA, and we hope to continue that relationship next year with the new officers,” said Barrenechea.

Azar agreed, saying he hopes this energy and momentum will carry into the next year, even though most of the project’s participants will be graduating. He’s hoping that an idea for “a phone application that will better connect students with what’s going on campus that is frequently updated” will be a project that can be pursued in the near future.

Azar and Rheault have also continued their cooperation beyond UMass and are currently co-designing for “Lit Nightclub,” a future addition to downtown Amherst nightlife.

Dmitriy Shapiro can be reached at [email protected].

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