Critical Section

iSnipeIt rocks

Sunday,  07/06/03  09:24 AM

Have you ever discovered a great little restaurant, and hesitated about telling your friends because you don't want "everyone" to go there?  Sometimes you find something really cool, but if everyone knew about it then it wouldn't be as cool anymore.  Well, I found something like that, but I'm going to share it - with you!

Evolution has this problem.  An organism "discovers" a new strategy - either physical ("long neck") or behavioral ("live on higher ground") - but the value is mainly as an advantage over competitors; if everyone employed the strategy there is no advantage.  And if there is a cost to the strategy then everyone has to pay the cost; there is no way to form a union of organisms which agree not to eat leaves from the tops of trees, or graze in the high meadows.  But I digress...

I really like eBay.  I am mostly a seller.  I am a gadget freak, I always want the latest of everything, which means the previous "latest thing" is no longer needed.  So I sell it on eBay; this works great; not only do I get money back, but the gadget's useful life is extended.  Occasionally I will buy stuff on eBay, but I've found the buying experience is not quite as great as the selling experience.  There is an asymmetry, in that if you're selling something chances are you will sell it, but if you're bidding on something you might not get it, at least not at a reasonable price.

So - iSnipeItI just found this great tool called iSnipeIt.  This tool automates an eBay practice called "sniping", whereby you sit on the sidelines of an auction you're interested in until the last possible second, and then enter a bid quickly, leaving the other interested bidders no time to respond.  There are two advantages of sniping, first, you are more likely to get the item, and second, you often save money (because other bidders don't have a chance to bid you up).

I've been trying to buy a used Macintosh Titanium Powerbook.  {Why used?  Well, laptops are one of those things that lose a lot of value right after they're bought; you can buy an almost-new laptop for substantially less than a new one.}  So after bidding on three auctions in a row and getting out-bid at the end, I decided to try iSnipeIt.  It works!  I won the first auction I tried it on, and the final price was $125 less than I was willing to pay.  Pretty darn cool.

Of course, if everyone snipes, the whole auction process is subverted.  The person willing to pay the highest price will still win, but you won't have the dynamic of people bidding against each other.  Which reminds me to point out - you can only really snipe if you know what an item is worth.  For items with a defined market like laptops this is great.  For a one-of-a-kind collectible you might want the auction dynamics to help you determine the price you're willing to pay.

Still, everyone doesn't snipe - at least not yet - so this is a great way to gain some advantage.  I can only imagine how frustrating it was for the other bidders on this laptop to see a brand-new bidder come in with 15 seconds to go and win.  Yippee.

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