DormItem: Regional College Classifieds in Rails

DormItem is a newly launched online classified ads service that searches not one college, but listings from colleges in the surrounding geographic area of wherever you attend. It’s a nicely designed site that includes integration of the Rapleaf reputation service (our coverage of Rapleaf), an autocompleting search and tag functions and an option to print any listing as a flier.

DormItem was developed by Dan Scudder and Zack Coburn, two college students in the North Eastern US. Coburn previously built the Madhens ad network. We profiled Madhens here, Coburn tried unsuccessfully to put that project up for sale on eBay but tells us he later sold it off site for $5k. “Not a bad summer job,” he says. Working in Rails on college students’ schedules DormItem took the two about a month and a half to build.

Colleges have a real interest in offering their students a safe, college specific way to buy and sell items. The Rapleaf reputation system is intended to help with this and DormItem is a good implementation of it. Rapleaf is like a plug and play eBay reputation system but with more information involved than simple good/bad ratings and one line comments.

The DormItem team intends to offer the software for licensing to colleges. Starting at $2k per year for small colleges, DormItem will customize the site, including displaying RSS feeds of events and notices from colleges on their DormItem pages. They rightly assert that students never see events and notices on college web pages, but put them on the local Craigslist/eBay and they are much more likely to be seen. Creator Dan Scudder is a participant in a business incubator at Babson College, which he says gives him the contacts to make college licensing a realistic prospect.

Scudder says that if the licensing route doesn’t work they will just put ads on the site. While I like the very simple look and feel to the site, I can’t help but think that pulling in a visual design student from one of the two schools these guys attend could be a big help. I think the functional design is great though, even if the aesthetic is ok at best.

DormItem faces competition not just from eBay and Craigslist, but also college specific classified networks like CollegeMedium and Chegg. Those services look like a nightmare to use, but DormItem’s very simple interface and contemporary features appeal to me much more. (Note: My impression of the interfaces at CollegeMedium and Clegg appear to be widely disagreed with, see comments and make up your own mind of course.) CampusTrade, college classifieds with social networking and a Digg like popularity feature, deserves a look in this space as well. I’m all for niche Digg clones, but I really like the simplicity, Rapleaf integration and tagging of DormItem best.

One of the key strengths of DormItem is the database of regional schools, it will tell you if an item you are looking for is also available at another college in your area.

At launch today DormItem is available for Boston area colleges, Babson, schools in NYC and Atlanta. This project could do well, I think it will appeal to a lot of students and possibly colleges as well. If college oriented services are of interest, see also our write up of CampusReader, an aggregator of college newspapers by region.