Read on TechCrunch:
eBay launched a new browser extension tool tonight that lets you highlight different products in Firefox or Internet Explorer and compare the pricing of those products on eBay. The tool also includes Skype functionality, which will let you click on a number in your browser and call it directly via Skype. […]
Because it’s only in beta, eBay’s “Compare on eBay” tool won’t work on any site you visit. Instead, it will only work on Google Search, Google Shopping, Yahoo! Search, Yahoo! Shopping, Amazon Search Results, Amazon Product Pages and Nextag. If the company sees strong use of the tool on those sites, it will expand its compatibility to other services.
On search results pages, a small icon appears above the results, which can be clicked to reveal an eBay page displaying all of the auction and Buy It Now listings currently being offered on eBay. If you want to bid or buy the products, you can click the link and you’ll be brought to the listing.
On pages like Amazon where the icon is not displayed, you can highlight the product you’re searching for by dragging your mouse over the product’s name and the same “Compare on eBay” icon pops up. If you click it, you’ll be brought to the same eBay pop-up screen that will allow you to browse the listings on that site.
The concept of this eBay Browser Highlighter reminds me of a post I wrote in 2006 on shopping bookmarlets. At this time, I was really impressed by the new Windows Live Toolbar, and its ability to “understand” a simple text highlighted by the user on a web page. This tool featured some “entity extraction” algorithms, as explained on the Windows Live Labs site:
Using machine learning to identify meaningful text in documents, we can turn the unstructured web into a rich set of tagged documents.
Restaurant reviews… Business addresses… People’s Names… Phone numbers… Product descriptions…
The web is overflowing with descriptive information, but most content is not yet linked with outside applications. Highlight a restaurant address on any website, get a popup map. Or a book title in a blog post for reviews and prices from around the web. Add names and phone numbers from any email or webpage to your contacts with one click. It’s all coming, and Entity Extraction is the enabling technology.
Another way to link data available on web pages with services is to rely on semantic data, i.e microformats. In a 2007 article, ReadWriteWeb explained how Firefox3 could have becomed an information broker (since then, the official Firefox3 has partially implemented this vision). Quoting Mozilla designer Alex Faaborg, ReadWriteWeb explains:
Much in the same way that operating systems currently associate particular file types with specific applications, future Web browsers are likely going to associate semantically marked up data you encounter on the Web with specific applications, either on your system or online. This means the contact information you see on a Web site will be associated with your favorite contacts application, events will be associated with your favorite calendar application, locations will be associated with your favorite mapping application, phone numbers will be associated with your favorite VOIP application, etc.
Imagine linking products described with the hListing or hProduct microformats, with the CSE or merchant site you like; then you have an open, extensible mechanism that will replace any proprietary add-ons similar to the eBay Browser Highlighter.
The new tool from eBay is a pragmatic attempt to extend the power of the browser. But the researchs by Microsoft on entity extraction algorithms and Firefox on the browser as information broker are far more exciting and interesting for end users.
I don’t believe in specific browser extension by specific vendors (seems difficult to attract an important audience); but I really believe in the vision where the browser will be able to link data with services, based on a combination of extraction algorithms and semantic data.