Unofficial Bank of BookMooch

February 12, 2009

Moocher Aaron McBride has been running the Unofficial Bank of BookMooch since April 2007. I thought I’d blog about it, as it’s quite interesting and has come a long way.

The Bank’s bio page at BookMooch has a good overview of how the bank operates, as does the BookMooch wiki page for it.

Basically the goal of the bank is:

    Unofficial BoB is here to lend people points so that they can get a book that they really want. This will then make more points available to more people and help keep books moving.

More importantly, the Bank’s sister site has some really good info on who’s using the bank and allows people to quickly and easily get a loan. It’s really neat to see that the bank is fully automated, so Aaron doesn’t need to check his email for loan requests, it all happens automatically

Here’s some stats Aaron sent me:

  • Number of members who have used the bank: 189
  • Number of people who have added UnofficialBoB as a friend: 148
  • Number of points in the bank: 195
  • Number of transactions people have had with the bank: 490

Aaron wrote me today and made the following points:


On a more human side, I’ve been really impressed with how many people have been willing to donate points to the bank (over 40). I’m also happy to see my suspicions confirmed that people are good and honest. I haven’t had any serious cases of abuse, and have seen a fairly low delinquency rate.

One other thing worth mentioning is that the bank’s mode of operation has changed quite a bit from when it first launched. Originally, the bank accepted deposits and would grant withdrawals against those deposits. The bank could then use the deposited points to grant loans, and so long as there wasn’t a run on the bank, everything would continue smoothly. It turns out that enough people made donations (not expecting to ever have those points returned) that I was able to fully pay back all of the deposits and run the loans purely out of the pool generated by deposits. I’m so “over funded” at this point that I’m not asking for donations anymore. Another thing that has changed is that I’ve stopped requiring that members have positive feedback to get a loan of more than one point. Now, anyone can get a loan of up to three points by simply clicking a few links and filling out a form.

While the bank isn’t right for everyone, I suspect that there are a lot of people out there that could benefit from it, but don’t know that it exists.

I sent Aaron a smooch, to thank him for this really cool side-project!

13 Responses to “Unofficial Bank of BookMooch”

  1. A. A. said

    When will we have the first bookmooch recession?

    Ha, what a little economy we have going here.

  2. cezartigno said

    Great job, Aaron!

    Now if we can only make the world’s economy operate just as easily as Unofficial BoB…

    Maybe you should head the World Bank.


  3. commonsguy said

    I’ve been noodling on an idea for BookMooch that may be just another side service like how UnofficialBoB works, though I think it may require too much integration into BookMooch proper.

    Right now, giving gifts of BookMooch seems painful.

    If, say, I wanted to give my cousin some BookMooch points to get some books, that only seems to work if said cousin is already a BookMooch member. Since the world has many more cousins than BookMooch members, odds are decent my cousin isn’t presently a member.

    So, I’d have to give the cousin a card, offering points if they sign up. Then they have to sign up. Then they have to email me their BookMooch ID. Then I have to donate the points to them. Every additional step is one more that might not happen, because people forget, emails get lost, etc.

    What I was thinking was there could be a way to pre-donate the points, turning a set number of points into a coupon code. I could then give a card to my cousin with, say, 5 points in the card — all they have to do is sign up, punch in the code, and they get the points immediately. The pre-donated points could have a timeout, such that if the coupon code is not redeemed after such-and-so time, the code expires and the points roll back to the giver’s account, perhaps with an email message indicating what happened, so they can follow up with the cousin if desired.

    It doesn’t appear this is possible to implement via the data access APIs, which makes perfect sense.

    Any ideas on how this might be implemented? I can lend some engineering assistance.

  4. re: “giving gifts of BookMooch”

    I could add an “API” for giving gifts, so you could do this. I’m happy to do this if you want to add this feature — I think that’s all you would need, that isn’t there now.


  5. sugarandgrits said

    I think “giving gifts” is a great idea! I had thought about suggesting Gift Cards, but this sounds better.

    Also, I’m a member of Eariler this week I got an email from them asking for new gift suggestions – is there anyway BookMooch could join up with them and offer so many BookMooch points for so many Coke Reward points? Just a thought that started bouncing around in my head once I read the email…

    Thanks for the BookMooch bookmarkers! Mine came today – I can’t wait to start sending them out.

    Have a great weekend & Valentine’s Day. =)

  6. commonsguy said

    re: API changes

    An independent Unofficial Gifts of BookMooch (UnofficialGoB) would presumably have to work like this:

    1. Giver sends a gift to an UnofficialGoB BookMooch account, representing the points to convert to a coupon

    2. UnofficialGoB would email back the coupon code and instructions (or possibly email directly to the end recipient of the gift)

    3. The recipient would visit UnofficialGoB for instructions

    4. The recipient would click a link to hop over to BM itself and get an account

    5. Back on UnofficialGoB, the recipient would supply their BM user ID and the coupon code

    6. UnofficialGoB would send the gift to the BM user ID

    The three API-esque hooks that I see in that flow are:

    a). Some solid way to know the email address of the giver and the points being gifted, or else an API to allow a gift operation to be conducted on a third-party site

    b). A GUI entry point for BM signup

    c). A means to automatically give a gift to a supplied BM user ID

    Item b) is presumably just unless there’d be a reason to do something else. Item c) is what you were referring to in your previous comment.

    Any thoughts on item a)?

    If you would prefer to continue this discussion elsewhere, tell me the forum thread or wiki page you’d like to use, or email me directly at mmurphy $at$


  7. thepinkegobox said

    I like the idea of being a partner. Also, what about becoming partners with Eco-Libris? Donate points for trees.

  8. jomarian said

    I would love this system as a means to send gifts to friends for birthdays!

  9. Thanks so much for posting this — I had no idea “we” had a bank, and was glad to contribute.

  10. Aaron said

    @commonsguy There are two transfers of points that would need to occur for the gift to work. 1) the gift giver needs to send points to UnofficialGoB, and 2) UnofficialGoB needs to send points to the gift receiver.

    Part 1 could be accomplished through the existing charity system, but the problem would be in knowing who the points are intended for (email address) in a private way–the comment that can be sent with a charity give action is publicly viewable through the data api (see

    For part 2, the charity system would work just fine. Item c) already exists (sort of). It’s how I send the loan points from UnofficialBoB to the person who requests the loan. It’s pretty simple really, you just need to make an HTTP GET request to (just fill in the fields with your values).

    The only tricky part is authenticating yourself, but to do that you just need to send the username and password (base 64 encoded) of the account your sending the points from in the Authorization header. Here’s a page with code that demonstrates how to do this in PHP

    Based on the comments here, it looks like a points gifting system would be popular enough that it should simply be a standard feature of BookMooch.

  11. Shauna said

    I also like the idea of giving gifts/coupon codes. I could give them to friends, readers of my blog, other teachers, etc. I hope there is a blog post here and a note on the forum when it all comes together.

    PS: I hope enough people donate to Bookmooch in time to get a new server before all of these new friends join bookmooch!

  12. Helen (Beachcomber) said

    I think UBob is a great idea, and yes, deserves publicity – I know I never had any idea it existed. I also like the idea of the gifts on a voucher thing which can be given. It might hook more people in!

  13. Materialgirl said

    About giving BM points as a gift to someone who isn’t already a member and all the back and forth traffic required: surely the donor could set up the account for their friend, as long as they knew their friend’s email address etc (probable). Then they could donate them the points and pass the whole thing over as a fait accompli.

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