On Computers

Behind the Scenes with GailLA

Gail Allinson, gail@oncomputers.info

20 July 2003

A Listener Tip: Google Alert

Jack and I received this e-mail this week:


I enjoy your tips. I have been looking for something like this for a long time and thought it might be interesting.

Google Alert (www.googlealert.com) is a free tracking service that automatically runs your daily Google searches for you and emails you when new search results appear.

I have been using it for some time now with good success.

Keep up the good work,


Thanks Wallace for the kind words and for a great tip.  I went to Google Alert and signed up myself.  I will now get updates weekly of the things I'm tracking -- there are a number of selections including tracking links to a site -- my personal favorite.  I also have my choice of plain text (which I prefer) or html e-mail.  I read the privacy policy, which seems very straight forward and have found no "gotchas".  It is important to note that Google Alert is in no way Google, but it does use APIs which Google has made available.  It seems that Google also has given them permission to call themselves Google Alert, but has asked that they make themselves distinct enough not to make folks think they are part of Google itself.

Oh,  I know Wallace mentioned it, but if you missed it, the service is free.  Check it out!

Buyer Beware

EBay, the most popular and world famous online auction can be a great way to get things that are impossible to find elsewhere, but it can also be a nightmare when a transaction doesn't go right.

I. like much of the world, have bought a number things on eBay and happily so.  If I gave you my eBay username, you would see glowing feedback reports and likewise my feedback for those I have bought from has always been glowing.  Jim and I recently sold some wingtips on eBay (from the airplane -- not wingtip shoes) and it was a great experience with positive feedback going both ways.

Then came this week.  Jim's eBay purchase did not go so well.  Fortunately, we are currently negotiating with the seller in mediation proceedings through eBay's Square Trade service. To say more at this point would be unfair because the seller is working with us at this time.  But this incident did prompt me to write about online auctions.

So here are some general things that bear repeating for eBay buyers.  First read and follow eBay's Safe Trading Tips.  When a package arrives from the seller and it is not what you were promised in the description and/or the pictures, contact the seller immediately.  If personal negotiations do not work, go back to the eBay and start working through their negotiation and mediation channels.  Do this before posting negative feedback -- save that for when the negotiations fail or when the seller does not respond to the request to negotiate or mediate.

I have some personal online auction rules that have kept me safe so far:

  1. Never bid more than you can afford to lose.  It is not outside the realm of possibility that someone can take your money and run. My personal comfort zone is less than $150 on any single auction.  A higher zone is fine, but assess just where your comfort level begins and ends before bidding.
  2. Do check the seller's feedback ratings.
  3. Do know what the item you are bidding on is selling for in similar auctions, or at retail.? I have seen used items sell on eBay for more than you can buy the same items new at retail.
  4. Do know what the seller is promising?  Be very skeptical of the words "mint" and "perfect".  Rarely is anything that has been used going to be "mint".  "New in box" should be just that -- new in a sealed box, just like you would have gotten it from a retail store.
  5. Be careful of knock-offs -- the words that mention the brand name are often in large type while the words "reproduction", "looks like", "works with" or "compares to" are in small type.
  6. Don't get into bidding fever. Winning is not everything -- set your limits based on rational research and stick with them. 
  7. There is nothing wrong with sniping (bidding automatically or by hand at the last minute).  I've never done it automatically using software, but I have done it by hand.  It is fair and if you lose to a sniper, you have just as fair a chance to win next time by sniping yourself.
  8. When you lose, remember that you didn't really need it anyway and there will probably be another of that same item, perhaps in even better condition or for a lesser price, posted in the near future.
  9. If the seller doesn't post the shipping cost, find out what they will be before you bid.  While most sellers are fair and reasonable with shipping, some use it to make up the difference between your winning bid and what they wanted to get.
  10. If you have any questions or something is unclear in either the picture or the description, get the answer in writing before you bid.

This is not an exhaustive list; and like I said, read eBay rules and follow their recommendations before you bid.  I think that online auctions can be one of the best experiences out there, but they can also bring financial loss and heartbreak.  Just like electricity, used wisely it's a wonderful thing, but used just a little carelessly and you can really get burned.

Cya next time!


© 2003 Gail Allinson

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