David A. Karp
Review by John Lightsey on 2 Jan 2004.
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
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
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.