nicolas leroy

The eBay Browser Highlighter, pragmatic solution to a more complex problem

October 01, 2008

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.

eBay Browser Highlighter - on Google results

eBay Browser Highlighter - on Google results

My thoughts:
  • This tool in its current shape could hardly be a threat for CSEs like Yahoo! Shopping or Nextag: results are not really relevant (see screenshots above with a search on “canon eos 40d” that retrieves only accessories from the eBay site – better results for “levis 501” or “red dress” queries though).
  • I haven’t been able to trigger the eBay results by selecting a product name inside a page, as suggested by TechCrunch. That’s a shame, as it seems to me a key feature to really unlock the potential of the tool and use it on any site.
  • I’m skeptical regarding the adoption of this tool. Sure for eBay power users, that can be a convenient tool (as the eBay AIR application or the eBay Firefox extension can be). But will it attract new users to use eBay? Not sure.

Entity extraction

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.

2 commentaires

on May 17, 2010 / 9pm
You can use 'eBay Spy' chrome extension. It will show you the best deals on eBay, great stuff, often the lowest price in there. It is not buggy as the browser highlighter, more accurate and lightweight.

on May 18, 2010 / 9am
Thanks for the tip! Will try it right away!