January 25, 2005

Open source sniping tool takes aim at eBay

Author: Sean Michael Kerner

Have you ever bid in on eBay auction item and thought you were going to win, only to see it go at the very last second for a bid just slightly higher than yours? Congratulations, you've been sniped. Luckily, you can fight back by getting your own sniping tool, courtesy of the open source community, which provides JBidwatcher, one of the best ones gunning.

Most eBay bidders make use of eBay's proxy bidding feature that allows the bidder to set the maximum price they are willing to pay. With the proxy system eBay automatically bids on the bidder's behalf so that the high bidder position is maintained until another bidder exceeds the bidder's specified top price. Sniping means putting in a topping bid as close to the end of the auction as possible, so that no other bidder can come in and beat you. You can do it manually, but its unlikely you'll be as accurate as an automated program like JBidwatcher.

JBidwatcher is a Java-based tool that does more than just place your bid in the final moments of an auction. JBidwatcher also provides auction tracking and other bidding tools, for greater control that what is available with eBay alone.

The program is licensed under the Lesser GPL (LGPL), and as such is freely available. All you need to have is a Java Runtime Environment (JRE) and the available binary (in .jar format), which will run on either Linux or Windows. Of course you need to have an eBay account in good standing as well.

Configuration

I tested JBidwatcher version 0.9.5, which was released in October. Configuring JBidwatcher is simple. The average user can do it via the program's Configuration Manager window. If you're really picky about your settings and want to change something that the GUI Config Manager doesn't specify (like display options), the documentation lists configuration file options (in two config files, JBidWatch.cfg and display.cfg).

In the GUI the General tab specifies overall spending limits (just in case you don't have enough self-control) as well as logging and click action preferences. The eBay tab is where you enter your eBay user and password and can optionally synchronize your listing to your My eBay listings. The Sniping tab is where you set the timing for your snipe in seconds; the default is 30 seconds, and I ran it successfully on a cable modem connection at 5 seconds without any problem.

Click to enlarge

Features

JBidwatcher "watches" eBay and tracks the auctions you specify. If you check off the Synchronize with My eBay option in JBidwatcher, it will track everything you're already watching and bidding on. You can add new auctions to track easily though the JBidwatcher GUI as well.

Though it may sound simplistic, I found the auction timer to be a valuable tool. JBidwatcher synchs up with eBay official time and provides a countdown timer with the amount of time left in an auction. With the normal eBay interface, time remaining is indicated, but there isn't a live countdown timer. When you get down to the final minute of an auction, a live countdown is a nice feature to have.

Sometimes it can be tough to find what you're looking for on eBay. It may be a really esoteric item or a just a rare item. JBidwatcher helps out with a powerful search feature that can be scheduled to run at regular intervals. The search data ends up back in the Current tab of the JBidwatcher interface so you can bid on it directly from the same screen where the results appear. The only drawback with the search feature is that it's not nearly as powerful as the search feature in eBay itself, in that it doesn't allow you specify categories or sellers as search criteria.

Sniping

Bidding and tracking auctions is all fine and nice, but I first sought out this application for its sniping features. With JBidwatcher, basic sniping is a simple point-and-click affair; all you have to do is set your top bid amount (as noted earlier, the timing of the snipe is set in the Configuration Manager) and click OK.

JBidwatcher also includes a powerful sniping feature called multisniping. Have you ever placed multiple bids on similar (or identical) items in the hope that you'd win just one? Ever been really (un)lucky and won more than one? That's the problem that multisniping solves. Essentially what this fabulous feature does is set a conditional snipe on a group of items such that if you win one of them the rest of the snipes in the group are canceled. You can't do that with regular eBay proxy bidding, now can you? (Well, I suppose you could retract or cancel your bids, but that negatively impacts your member profile, and you don't want that to happen.)

Click to enlarge

In contrast to the regular eBay proxy bidding process, where you can just bid your max amount, log off, and then come back in a few days to see if you've won, JBidwatcher needs to be running to be effective.

Using JBidwatcher doesn't mean you'll magically win every auction you snipe. With your last-minute bid it's important to bid your actual maximum amount. If another user (who may or may not be sniping) has a higher bid via proxy you'll still lose even with the sniper.

I've found JBidwatcher to be an indispensable tool for tracking and winning eBay auctions. Its time counter provides a better display of auctions in live time than the default eBay interface. The sniping and multisniping features have dramatically improved my buying success rate. With JBidwatcher and the last-minute thrill of sniping, my eBay auction experience is a whole lot more involved and fun.

Sniping is neither encouraged nor banned by eBay. Considering how many auctions I lost over the holiday season, I'd say it's quite rampant. The regular eBay interface continues to improve, but until it offers sniping and multisniping features, I think I'll be doing all my bidding with JBidwatcher.