A course-based textbook price comparison website.
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README.md

GetchaBooks

GetchaBooks.com is a web service that combines school textbook listings with an easy-to-use price comparison system. For more information, see http://getchabooks.com/about and http://getchabooks.com/open-source.

GetchaBooks is licensed under the MIT License. We hope you'll use the code to create your own version of GetchaBooks at your school, as long as you use a different name and different branding. GetchaBooks.com is no longer being actively developed, but we will still gladly accept pull requests that fix bugs or add new functionality.

Features

A PHP/MySQL backend built with Slim and Propel, including:

  • a comprehensive multi-book price comparison engine
  • an efficient bookstore scraping system with real-time and batch modes
  • the ability to augment limited bookstore metadata with department, course, and professor names, which increases usability
  • fast results page loading through prefetching of bookstore results and online prices

An easy-to-use front-end optimized for desktop (modern WebKit, Gecko, Opera, and IE8+) and tablet web browsers, including:

  • a streamlined interface for selecting a school, term, and courses or simply entering ISBNs
  • a results interface with both a plain English summary of the best combined options and a grid displaying all book prices
  • a comprehensive analytics system to gather data on user behavior patterns

Dependencies

GetchaBooks works out of the box with Apache, but should work with any server that supports URL rewriting. Just have your server configuration point to public/, and be sure to enable the FollowSymlinks option.

GetchaBooks requires PHP 5.3+, MySQL, Propel 1.6.5 (although other versions may work), and Memcached. These can be installed on Ubuntu as follows:

sudo apt-get install apache2 libapache2-mod-php5 mysql-server php5-mysql \
php5-cli memcached php5-memcache

pear channel-discover pear.propelorm.org
pear install -a propel/propel_generator
pear install -a propel/propel_runtime

Other dependencies are handled using git submodules, so you will need to run git submodule init && git submodule update after cloning the repository.

Additionally, our CSS and JS minification tools (installed via git submodule) require Ruby and Node.js to be installed.

Setup

# edit config.php to specify API keys, affiliate IDs, etc.
cp config/config.php.example config/config.php

# edit build.properties and runtime-conf.xml to specify db connection
cd models/propel
cp build.properties.example build.properties
cp runtime-conf.xml.example runtime-conf.xml

# rebuild propel runtime files from configuration files
propel-gen

# create and initialize databases
mysql -u root -p
$ create database gbprod;
$ use gbprod;
$ source sql/schema.sql
$ create database gbdev;
$ use gbdev;
$ source sql/schema.sql

# edit XML files to define some schools
cd ../../
vim config/BnCollege.xml

# load schools from XML files into database
./gb load

# generate schools.json, which is cached and used to build the homepage
./gb json

# make logs writeable
touch error_log slim_log

Usage

There are several flags defined in init.php that affect site behavior, which are set based on the existence of dummy files in the root directory. Most significantly, the production flag determines which database and memcached prefix are used and whether to point to native JS and CSS files or minified and packaged versions.

There are a number of scripts that can be run by doing ./gb <script> [args] from the root directory, including:

# Switch to a given mode and re-package assets
./gb {prod,dev}

# Tell Sass daemon to watch the stylesheets and update their corresponding
# .css files with each change
./gb watch

# Spider all schools, but only down to departments.  This ensures that the
# first load of the selection page will be fast for all schools.
./gb spider

# Fully spider the bookstore dropdown data for a particular school. This
# enables lightning-fast dropdowns.
./gb spider <school slug>

# Fetch metadata (department, course and professor names) about all known
# data for a school
./gb courseinfo <school slug>

Extending the Codebase

You can add functionality to GetchaBooks by writing a new implementation of one of three interfaces:

  • A Vendor represents an online bookseller, with methods for fetching price information and generating referral URLs. GetchaBooks currently supports Amazon, Amazon Marketplace, Half, AbeBooks, and Chegg.

  • A Bookstore, which is also a Vendor, represents an online college bookstore system, with a fully de-coupled interface for fetching data from the School->Campus->Term->Department->Course->Section->Books hierarchy.

    GetchaBooks currently supports BNCollege and Follett bookstores, with implementations for four other bookstore chains based on TextYard.com's Open-Textbooks library in the works.

  • Bookstore websites use department abbreviations and course and section numbers for selecting courses, which is difficult if you don't remember your course or section number. GetchaBooks allows you to provide a better experience by defining a school CourseInfoProvider that provides department names, course names, and professor names. Schools with course info also give the user the option of using an autocompletion interface for selecting courses instead of dropdowns.

Making It Your Own

The code to GetchaBooks is open for you to use however you want. However, the GetchaBooks name and logo are trademarked. If you use our codebase, we ask you to come up with your own unique brand distinct from ours. Customizing the site is easy:

  • All colors used on the site are defined as SASS variables in the _constants.scss file.

  • The logo in the top-left corner is public/images/logo.png. You'll need to throw in your own image file, as we have not included our trademarked GetchaBooks assets. You'll also likely want to include your own favicon (favicon.ico), FB open graph image (og_image.png), and iOS home screen icon (apple-touch-icon-precomposed[-retina].png).

  • config/config.php contains variables that determine the site name, referral tags, Google Analytics ID, outgoing Facebook and Twitter URLs (if any), and other customizable aspects of the site.

Above all, don't be afraid of coming up with a brand that's opinionated. Although it's easy to launch your own generic GetchaBooks-like site that works at hundreds of schools, we recommend focusing on a single school or geographical region where you can put a concerted effort into marketing. Despite our best efforts to support as many colleges as possible, we found that we did best by focusing on a small number of schools where we were able to make a meaningful impact.

Designing a brand around a single school (using school colors, including the school's name or sports mascot in the title, etc) is a great way to set yourself up for success, especially if it's a school you're familiar with.

Related Work

While developing GetchaBooks, we came across a number of people creating similar services. As we made technical and design decisions, we were grateful for the opportunity to learn from their work.

Authors