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.

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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 thebigwordproject.com, 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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