by Andy

Bay Prospector Interview

We talk to Cheng Tan, founder of Bay Prospector, about the popular Prospector searching tool.

Tags: Interviews

WR: You have a background in computer science as well as being an avid eBay antiques collector. What kind of computer projects did you work on prior to Bay Prospector?
CT: I've worked on a number of projects including the GEOS 2.0 operating system for the Commodore 64/128, multimedia authoring at Kaleida Labs, web proxy work at Inktomi, interactive TV at Wink Communications, enterprise network and high-availability clusters at Rainfinity, and site monitoring at Microsoft.
WR: And what kind of antiques do you collect?
CT: South-East Asian primarily.
WR: What initially prompted you to create Prospector?

Some of the antiques I look for have names that are spelt phonetically and I was making dozens of searches with the different spelling variants. It became very tedious and time consuming and I started looking for a search tool that would let me organize and replay my searches. I didn't find what I needed and I started on what has become Prospector.

A goal from early on was to create software that helped with different modes of searching, from casual browsing, getting help from the competition, to long-term persistent searches. It would automate stuff I was finding effective in locating items and that I was already doing manually.

I passed the software to people I knew, and things grew from there. A nice bit of validation came early on when a friend, who had previously said that his wife wasn't into eBay, showed me a cabinet full of stuff that she had found and won through Prospector.

WR: Why did you change Prospector to use the eBay API, and what has been the impact on you and your users?

I got in touch with eBay, and they later initiated a Buyer Tools program and invited a project proposal. Prospector was selected, and it's been excellent.

eBay did do a feature by feature review and several of the more controversial features were nixed, but I feel the tradeoff was worth it. Prior to using their API, Prospector did extensive screen scraping of information off the eBay web pages and it was prone to breakage whenever eBay made changes to their site. The move to the API definitely stabilized the product.

WR: There are now four versions of Prospector: Lite, Searcher, Bidder, and Professional. Why did you decide to have different versions?
CT: This was to cater to different needs. Rather than having a single Pro version, we separated the search and bidding functions for those who want to use it primarily for one purpose or the other.
WR: Prospector supports plug-in components, such as the sniping add-on from Ace Sniper. Are other plug-ins being created?
CT: We're looking at an analysis package. Nothing firm yet though.
WR: Prospector has a rich set of features for eBay buyers, is there much more that you can do for them?

eBay's API has its quirks and some features are still not practical. We've requested that eBay make changes and it looks like some of these things are already in the pipeline or are planned. A good number of users have been very helpful too with suggestions and requests.

Version 3 of Prospector is in the works and it'll be released in early 2006. We've managed to more than double the search speed, and there'll be new search types and filters as well. I feel Prospector still has yet to reach its potential and we continue to improve on it.

WR: Thank you for your time and best wishes for Bay Prospector.

Discuss this interview

Article Added: 2 January 2006
Last Updated: 2 January 2006