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Open source sniping tool takes aim at eBay

By Sean Michael Kerner on January 25, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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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.

Configuration
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.)

Sniping
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.

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on Open source sniping tool takes aim at eBay

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interview with /.robbIE postphoned?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2005 10:35 PM
Due to excessive bad posting from this IP or Subnet, comment posting has temporarily been disabled. If it's you, consider this a chance to sit in the timeout corner . If it's someone else, this is a chance to hunt them down. If you think this is unfair, we don't care.

talk about freedumb of speech/corepirate nazi suckups/censorship?


       

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'temporarily', for over a weak now?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2005 10:37 PM
mynuts won, talk about nazi-style censorship?

lookout bullow.

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Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2005 10:41 PM
I guess I still don't get it - why would you bother to bid snipe a single item? Just enter the amount you are actually willing to pay for the thing, and let ebay do the work! Unless beating someone out of the item is the entire point, why not let the proxy bidding system work it's magic? I just can't understand why you'd go through the trouble of bid sniping on a single item, when you could simply bid appropriately in the first place. If it's really worth $20 to you, THEN BID $20. If it's really worth $20.73, BID THAT AMOUNT.

Now the conditional feature (sniping on multiple items) is really interesting, simply because I often DO want to bid on more than one thing, but I don't want to win more than one. I'll definitely be looking at this feature.

Thanks!

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 25, 2005 11:22 PM
Just because you're WILLING to pay $20 for an item doesn't mean you WANT to pay the maximum it's worth to you. Say Bidder X (second cousin of Racer X) has a max of $18, and the price is currently at $5. At 1 second before auction close, you put in your bid of $20. Since the current price is $5, your bid goes in at $5.25 just before the closing bell, preventing Bidder X's bid proxy from increasing the price. Either way you win the auction, but this way you win at a lower cost.

Of course, if your maximum bid was $6, it might be considered unethical to win the bid by timing rather than higher price... but since you and Bidder X don't know each other's maximum, you can only speculate as to who was truly willing to pay more.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 12:06 AM
The thing is, if Bidder X had a max of $18, they should just enter that in as their max. That way, when you put in your bid for $20, you end up having to pay $18.25. If Bidder X had only entered in $5 as their max, and you snipe them, it is their own fault if they get "sniped." They should have put in their real max.

Or am I missing something? Is there something funky about Ebay's bid proxy that causes it to fail in the last second of an auction? I would consider that a flaw with their system.

In any case, I understand the concept of sniping. You prevent the other bidder from raising their maximum. But if they were really willing to pay more, they should have entered more, so it seems fair enough.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 12:41 AM

Or am I missing something?


You are. You're completely missing the point that was made in the last message. Chances are that the other bidder is trying to snipe for the lowest possible price as well, so (s)he won't be entering that $18 bid. Thus, sniping ensures that you remain under your maximum bid, and have a strong chance of getting the item at a substantially lower price.


If Bidder X had only entered in $5 as their max, and you snipe them, it is their own fault if they get "sniped." They should have put in their real max.


This is exactly the point. It's called "defeating human nature".

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 03:43 AM
THE point is that sniping allows you to let the auction remain dormant until the end. If everyone put in their max bid then automatic bidding would kick in and drive the price up to one bid just above the second-highest bidders top bid. If you let it remain dormant until closing seconds then odds are it won't ratchet up so quickly and you get a potentially lower price.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 06:58 AM
Usually shortly before a auction is over I will place a minimum amount bid just to see if a proxy bid kicks in. If it does I keep inching it up till I
hit their limit if I am willing to pay that much.....then at the last minute I snipe the bid just to kill anyone else off...proxy bid if you want I will still get you at the end.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on February 09, 2005 03:43 AM
That makes no sense. If I'm willing to pay more than you are, then I'll win 100% of the time whether you snipe me or not. I put it what I'd pay for it, and that's that. Unless you're paying more than you're willing to pay, for some reason. But that's just dumb.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 02:37 AM

Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 04:15 AM
I don't get it either. If the item always goes to the bidder with the highest maximum, then the sniper wins because he's proxy bidding, not because he's sniping. So what if snipers win over "human nature" (read idiocy) if simple proxy bidding would achieve the same result.

The multiple bids feature makes sense but I don't see why these bids would have to be snipes.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 04:32 AM
Wtf is 'proxy bidding'?

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 04:40 AM
Just replying to myself, to toss out a thought.

Why doesn't eBay just dump conventional bidding, and run blind auctions? You could just submit your bid not knowing what the other bids are. You could bid in multiple auctions, and retract your bids in later auctions if you win in earlier ones.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 05:13 AM
Because that takes out the gamesmanship that earns eBay money. People get carried away when they bid. They will bid their max, and then someone will outbid them. So they'll think about it for a while, and put in "just one more bid". Or they start getting competitive. Sniping bypasses that because they don't get time to think about it and decide "one more".

Why aren't public auctions silent? Because the seller makes more money when they aren't.

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Re:Why snipe?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 07:35 AM
IIRC thats an option the seller can enable.

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This is a free online auction sniper website!

Posted by: ebays on February 28, 2005 05:57 AM


Snipe Station is the only totally FREE eBay auction sniper website, check it out at http://www.SnipeStation.com

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Real life auction snipers

Posted by: SarsSmarz on January 26, 2005 05:47 AM
Have you ever been to one of those charity silent auctions and you thought you had a good deal? Then just as they are closing the bids, somebody grabs the paper, adds a buck, and holds on to it until they collect it. ooooohhhhh!

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Re:Real life auction snipers

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 27, 2005 03:06 AM
Silent auctions are supposed to be where you write what you bid on a piece of paper with your name and drop it in a bucket. Then after a while they grab the bucket and the highest bid wins. There is no advantage to bidding more than once and no pressure to win.

The real draw is the little food with fancy toothpicks in it.

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bid time extension?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on January 26, 2005 06:14 AM
I am not very familiar with eBay, but I've tried some other online auctions before. Some online auction systems have this time extension 'feature' whereby a bid placed within the last few minutes of an auction's end time would extend it by another fixed few minutes. If eBay has this 'feature', it would make sniping totally useless. In which case, sniping would have the same effect as proxy bidding. Does eBay do this?

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I snipe

Posted by: hosh on January 26, 2005 08:42 AM
The point of proxy bidding is to enter your highest amount you're willing to pay for the item one time and if at the end of the auction, you still have the highest price, you win. That's not how it works in reality. When most people bid, they don't enter they're actual max amount they're willing to pay. When they're are outbid, they just go back and enter a higher "max bid." That totally defeats the purpose of proxy bidding. I snipe for 2 reasons:

  1. If I'm up against someone (say the person with the current high bid) and I outbid them, they might come back and bid more just to win the auction. So if I wait until they're 10 seconds left, they won't have the opportunity to come back and bid more.
  2. If I'm the person that gets outbid: to keep me from bidding higher just for the sake of winning the auction.

So, if people would enter they're actual max bid (the amount that it's worth to them) toward the beginning of the auction, or the first time they bid, proxy bidding would work great. People don't get a better deal on an item for bidding less than they're willing to pay and going back to bid more.

My $0.02

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Open source sniping tool takes aim at eBay

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Open source sniping tool takes aim at eBay

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.57.14.32] on February 19, 2008 04:28 AM
i was wondering why i kept losing these auctions last minute! thank you for finally clearing the fog on this problem of mine!!!!

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