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The IOBA Standard is the journal of the Independent Online Booksellers Association and covers the book world, with a special focus on the online used, out-of-print, and collectible bookselling markets.


Lily Chen – Meta-site Search Engine


URLS : (new book search), (used book search), (CDs), (DVD & VHS), subscriptions) .

Lily, when did AddALL actually start business? And can you tell us who was involved, and how you actually came up with your streamlined format and gathered the personnel talent to start your company?

AddALL started business in August 1998. Hup wrote the software. I helped with non-technical issues. Both of us had other jobs till recently so we used to run AddALL in late evenings and on weekends. We worked from the corners of our bedrooms and had “board meetings” at my dining room table. Hup became full-time with AddALL a year ago and I this past July. We didn’t have an office till last November.

I have to confess that we didn’t always have this streamlined format. There were a few weeks in AddALL’s early history that we, like almost everybody else then, featured banner ads. However, we soon decided to make AddALL banner ads free because we found banner ads extremely irritating and wanted to spare our users the pain.

We have been recruiting mostly among acquaintances. AddALL is an “Internet-ional” company. Our team members have been working and collaborating with each other from all over the world to serve users from all over the world via the internet.

Are the original founders of the company all still involved? What role do you personally fill? For instance, do you have a programming manager, a business manager, etc.?

Yes. Hup’s still the tech guy; I’m still the biz gal. AddALL is too small for serious business titles. We joked that if we had to call ourselves something more important, Hup would be the CTO—cheap technical officer, and me the CEO—chief errands officer.

Where and how did you come up with the idea of the quotes? I love that—always take the time to read them! Did you have to obtain permission to use each? And how many different quotes are there, total? Are they rotated on a random basis?

It just hit me one day. I wanted to share something meaningful with AddALL users. I’ve always liked quotes and used to keep a journal of my favorite quotes in different languages.

I don’t believe we need to obtain permission since we do not use the quotes for profit. In addition, many quotes are in the public domain.

There are hundreds of quotes, all handpicked by AddALL team members. At first we had only Tagore quotes because both Hup and I like Tagore a lot. We like his messages promoting compassion, tolerance, appreciation, and non-violence. After a while, some users complained that “talking trees and birds and bees” drove them crazy. So we took some time and added more variety.

Yes, we rotate the quotes on a random basis.

How does your fee schedule work that you charge databases being searched by AddALL?

We ask an affiliate-to-be to choose one of three options that suits their budget and needs: 1) a monthly flat fee based on volume of books listed on a site; or 2) a per click-through fee based on numbers of queries we direct to their site; or 3) sales commission if a site already has an affiliate program. We also accept or offer traffic exchange in supplement of any of the above-mentioned choices.

I really like your “strict” search feature that you’ve added—it does seem to completely cut out paperbacks when you ask for a hardback (though not so accurate if you ask for paperbacks only) and it is still very speedy. I do notice, however, that if you ask for a first edition that book club hardbacks still are in the search results. Do you have any plans for further refining this strict search to only return results mentioning first (or 1st) edition? Or is this an impossible dream, given the many ways booksellers describe their books?

Yes it’s technically possible and we do have plans to work on it. We keep improving our site by adding new features and fixing bugs. Hup promised to work on it once he finishes coding for our magazine site (

I notice that you’ve recently added some sister sites,, for music, and, for movies. From a casual look at these, it appears that currently they are only for new items—do you have plans to extend these sites into the used market? And, are these search sites built on the same technology you used for AddALL’s book searches? How are they working out for you?

Music and movies are completely new territories for us. There is still a lot we need to learn. We have a backlog of things we want to, need to, and simply must do. We do not plan to enter the used market anytime soon.

We borrowed a thing or two from AddALL’s book search, but we are using mostly more advanced and newer technologies that were not available when we wrote the book search program.

Do you see AddALL expanding into other markets in the future? If not giving away business plans, are you currently working on any such expansions?

Yes. Yes. And no further comments without giving away our business plans. You will see the expansions as they happen.

You say on your site that the people involved in AddALL are book readers. Who are some of these people, and what types of book do each of you enjoy?

Please see a combined answer below.

We’d love to get to know each of you involved in AddALL a bit as people. Could you each tell us a bit about yourselves, i.e., backgrounds, hobbies, etc.?

Sure. Following “bios” are either provided by an AddALL member him/herself, or compiled by me with their input and approval.

For Hup

Born in Malaysia. Went to college in Taiwan. Dual degrees in psychology and information science. Native in the Perl language. Also speaks Mandarin Chinese, Fukienese (a Chinese dialect), and a little Malay. Enjoys badminton, skiing and paintball when his feet, which he injured when practicing Tae Kwon, do not hurt. Lives in Arcadia, California. Besides being partners, Hup and Lily have been close friends for years.

Favorite authors: Tagore (as far as I know.)

Favorite books: ??? ……. (He gave me a blank look when I asked him this question. He’s been doing so much programming recently for our magazine comparison site ( that all he can recall is computer books and those are NOT his favorites.)

(Hup does almost all of the complex programming behind AddALL’s simple looking web sites.)

From Lily

I came to Los Angeles in 1991 from Shanghai, China. Though I don’t like school and am a frequent drop-out, I’ve always loved to read. I focus so much when I read that I’d tune out completely. As a child, one afternoon when playing hide-and-seek I hid under a desk and read till my father finally found me in the evening. My cousins had given up a long time ago and the adults thought I was missing. Later I was punished for “reading without proper lighting or breaks.”

Though my degrees are in Japanese Culture and business, my favorite genres are poems, essays, science, and medical books. The first time I stayed up all night to read a book, it was about quantum physics. However, recently I’ve been reading mostly business and legal titles. My favorite authors include Hugo, Dickens, Twain, Asimov, Jules Verne, Saint-Exupery, Anderson, and O Henry. I also enjoy classical Chinese and Japanese works.

I like daydreaming, playing the piano, listening to classic music, taking walks, doing flower arrangements and gardening. I’m also trying to learn to whistle, swim, and ride a bicycle. I hope someday my earning power will match my ambitions in charity, and I’d have more time to read, write, and do volunteer work.

(I manage non-technical issues at AddALL.)

From Gail

I joined AddALL in August, 2000, having known (and appreciated) Lily for several years. I have been an avid reader all my life and actually don’t mind my current bouts with insomnia, as they give me time in the middle of the night for a good, solid read. I have lived long enough to have done all sorts of things, from running an experimental multi-arts theater on St. Mark’s Place in NY (in the 60s) to running a building site that called itself a hotel on the island of Crete (in the 80s). I am a pre-school teacher by profession and for many years most of my favorite friends and acquaintances were under the age of five. I have taught English as a Foreign Language to adults in Poland, China and Egypt and can now say that many of my favorite friends and acquaintances speak English as their second or third language. In addition to my work at, I conduct individualized rare book searches for a local independent bookstore, where AddALL makes me look good. I have been married to Robert Westbrook for 25 years, have two wonderful sons and two grandsons who are, of course, extraordinary in every way.

I read more fiction than non-fiction – my favorite author of the moment is Proust (my husband excepted, of course) and favorite poet of the moment is Billy Collins.

(Gail answers each and every one of the customer service e-mails, and provides editing services to AddALL .)

From Robert

Robert has loved books since an early age, both as a reader and a writer. His first book, Journey Behind The Iron Curtain, was published by G.P. Putnam’s when he was seventeen years old, a journal of a high school trip to the Soviet Union. A few years later he published a novel based on his student days at Columbia College in the 1960s, The Magic Garden of Stanley Sweetheart , that was made into an MGM film starring Don Johnson. He has gone on to write 13 books, fiction and non-fiction, including Intimate Lies, a critically-acclaimed account of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s final years in Hollywood, two separate mystery series, and two novels based on screenplays, The Mexican and Insomnia. His most recent mystery, Ancient Enemy, published by Signet, was nominated for a Shamus Award.

Robert lives in New Mexico with his wife Gail. He loves to travel, play jazz piano, and ski. He is also particularly fond of sushi. In the past five years, he has been teaching writing at the Taos Institute of Art and on Cape Cod. You can learn more about Robert on his website,

(Robert pens the weekly book chats for AddALL.)

For Stephen

Born in Shanghai, educated in Japan, he now lives in Vancouver, Canada. He is the design guy as well as the peacekeeper at AddALL. He has been Lily’s buddy and make-do shrink for years.

His favorite books include: Rich Dad and Poor Dad, Dreams of the Red Chamber (a Chinese classic), and martial arts novels by Jin Yong. Recently he’s been devouring books on entrepreneurship. His dream is to have his own trade or computer company, create jobs and give something back to his adopted motherland of Canada.

For hobbies, he likes Karaoke (sing-along), golfing, and making people laugh. He loves life itself and thinks every moment is a wonderful moment.

(Stephen brought you the HELP guides.)

For Nancy

Her friendship with Lily began at age two and has deepened throughout the years. A newly wed, she lives in Shanghai and is expecting (very nervously!) her first baby (or babies, as she hopes).

Her favorite things include eating gourmet food (the more cheese and calories in it the better), travel, shopping, counting money and daydreaming of making more money, and writing short stories and essays.

Nancy likes reading novels and has published in newspapers. A few of her favorite books are: Gone with the Wind , The Yearling , and The Thorn Birds . Her favorite authors include Mark Twain, Yi Shu, and Aileen Chang.

(Nancy brought you the Chinese version of AddALL.)

Thank you so much, Lily, for allowing us to interview you!

Thank you for inviting AddALL to “meet” your members and let people know us better. Now that both Hup and I have gone fulltime with AddALL, I hope we will do better at improving our existing services and bringing out new ones.




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