Grad Students Dream Up $1-a-Letter Web Site

Ready to taste envy? To burn with regret? Meet Paddy Donnelly and Lee Munroe. They’re selling words at a buck per letter. Donnelly, 22, and Munroe, 23 — graduate students at the University of Ulster-Belfast — dreamed up the Big Word Project while brainstorming a mass collaboration Web site that would let Donnelly use his viral marketing ideas and Munroe hone his Ruby on Rails skills.

Paddy Donnelly and Lee Munroe

“Words mean different things to different people,” Donnelly says, “so we thought, why not let people redefine them?” When you buy a word on, you can link that term from the dictionary-like site to any other site, which then becomes the word’s new “definition.” It’s also a cheap way to place an ad.

It’s reminiscent of the Million Dollar Homepage, which sold a million pixels for $1 a pop. But with nearly all 291,500 Oxford English Dictionary entries in inventory — plus verb forms, plural nouns, comparatives, superlatives, and American spellings — Donnelly and Munroe estimate they could do half a million better.

Two weeks after launch, the duo had unloaded more than 2,000 words, from “a” ($1) to “zyzzyva” ($7).


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