eBay Hacks: 100 Indstrial-Strength Tips & Tools

AUTHOR: David A. Karp


PUBLISHED: August 2003

ISBN: 0-596-00564-4

PAGES: 331

Review by John Lightsey on 2 Jan 2004.

eBay Hacks initially appealed to me because I do a fair amount of scraping, tweaking, and playing with eBay in my day job. I had some initial reservations about reviewing any O'Reilly "Hacks" book because I have in the past browsed through the Server Hacks and Google Hacks books and found the format somewhat lacking. The idea is to put 100 "hacks" going from simple to complex in a moderately sized book at a moderate price. Sort of a slimmed down version of O'Reilly's Cookbook series. I'd love to say that my reservations were entirely unfounded, but that's simply not the case.

Like the other "Hacks" books before it, eBay Hacks tries to appeal to an overly broad audience for a hacker's book. The first eight hacks, dealing with eBay's feedback system, should be obvious to anyone who has bought and sold a handful of items on eBay. The next 11 hacks, dealing with eBay's search interface, should be well known to anyone who has spent a few hours browsing the eBay database of products. I was sorely tempted to give up entirely while reading these first 20 "hacks". Anyone with a reasonable level of experience with eBay would be well advised to skim these two sections picking up the few tidbits that might seem novel.

Chapter 3, hacks 20 through 32, deals with bidding and payments. The information here finally begins to get interesting, although the requisite sniping hacks should be common knowledge. In particular I found hack #27, "Retract Your Bid Without Retracting Your Bid" to be a brilliant example of the kind of information I was looking for when I picked up this book.

Chapter 4, hacks 33 through 54, covers selling on eBay from top to bottom. These hacks go from very general nonsence, hack #40 is a basic intro to HTML, to very usefull tidbits, hack #49 "Opting Out of Checkout". Chapter 5, hacks 55 through 64, continues the same trend in discussing photos. Much of this information is very basic though there are a few that will leave you thinking "nice idea."

Chapters 6 and 7, "Completing Transactions" and "Running a Business on eBay", are fairly seller specific and thus, you'd expect anyone interested in this material to already have a decent grasp of it. I was a bit disappointed that the author didn't go into greater detail about merchant accounts for credit card processing, hack #75, and eBay's affiliate program, hack #77. Even so, for someone just beginning to switch from being a buyer to a seller, these hacks will definitely shallow out the learning curve.

The final chapter, hacks 82 through 100, describes the eBay API for custom applications. This chapter is obviously what a hack book is all about, and it does a good job of providing simple examples of how the API can be used. Unfortunately, hack #100, "Working Without the eBay API", does a very minimalist job of explaining how and why a serious eBay hacker WOULDN'T use the API. eBay's API, like Google's, comes with serious trade-offs. On the one hand, eBay is giving you a conventient and stable interface for your scripts, but on the other hand you're giving up the freedom and anonymity that more traditional web scraping allows. There is a blurry line dividing the sort of scraping that is acceptable to discuss in a book before eBay changes their interface to render the scripts obsolete. To the author's credit he does provide several example web scraping scripts in previous chapters.

Taken as a whole, I'd have to say this book provides a decent amount of useful information for new eBay sellers. For buyers, I'd suggest you look carefully at the table of contents before picking this title up. There are a few juicy tidbits, but there's also a good chance that little will be particularly interesting or informative to you. For coders interested in learning the eBay API, the documentation provided by eBay will be a better resource and costs nothing. Of course, if you make a living through eBay as a buyer, seller, or developer, the $25 cover price is minimal when compared to the value of a few new ideas. As far as the "Hacks" book format from O'Reilly goes, I'm still not convinced. The old-fashioned Cookbook series seemed to provide much more meat, though obviously the subjects were a bit deeper to begin with.

Rating: 3/5