Belfast Telegraph

eBay scans the market for code to more success

By Jase Bell

The huge online auction site, eBay, has been on acquisition hunt again.

Many of us remember eBay's shocking purchase of internet telephony company Skype —in fact at the time a lot of us in technology reporting land kept asking the same questions: “Why Skype? Why did it cost billions, and who's going to use it during an auction?”.

This time it's different. eBay have picked up RedLazer, the barcode scanning application for the iPhone.

If you don't know what RedLazer does, let me explain. All you do is scan the barcode of a product and RedLazer will scoot off and bring up a list of comparison prices. Plain, simple, and nigh on brilliant; so much so that the local Waterstone's bookshop give me strange looks when I start scanning barcodes to see what price I can get on Amazon. It's not playing the game, I know.

So what do eBay want with RedLazer

? Well, it looks like they've got the notion that mobile usage will rise over the next few years. With people selling so much stuff, it would make sense to be able to scan the barcode of the item you're selling, and then the details come up on your listing.

With items like books, CDs, and DVDs, then, this is the biggest win-win I can think of. Especially when you think in terms of Amazon's product application programming interface (API) being so vast. That rare Betty Boo CD can now be listed with ease.

One thing that concerns me is that the public database of UPC items (the standard barcode used on products) is pretty lame; the only one I know about is run by a chap in the US, and is crowdsourced.

A noble effort by any stretch of the imagination, but far from complete.

For the more nerdy programmers among us there's the Tesco API, which gives us a lot of scope for the day to do stuff, but you're never going to auction a tin of beans unless there's a Turin Shroud-like face of your favourite celebrity.

The success of all this will be the quality of the data that's out there.

It's also a small audience when you see that RedLazer is currently on two million iPhones. There's no Android or Blackberry versions, so eBay have firmly put their money on Apple devices.

On the opposite side of the coin, it does show, once again, that if you have a good idea and are willing to put the work in, then it may pay in the long run. Occipital, who created RedLazer, was literally a basement operation.

Now RedLazer goes to eBay with a new team of people to work on it, Occipital is now looking at the next wave of apps.

It all looks good on paper. Ultimately the success of the eBay/ RedLazer acquisition will remain with the customers. Once you put management, marketing, and nerds aside it's the customer that will truly tell you if it was all worth it. eBay paid a high price with Skype — no seller really wanted to talk to the bidder in realtime, email was fine.

Hopefully this will have a better ending.

Jase Bell is a software developer and founder of Data Sentiment ( www.twitter.com/jasebell )

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