Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mining eBay

A search this morning led me through eBay. This has happened before, so I think it's worth writing about.

Thinking that the brand name and model number would instantly fetch me the humidifier replacement filters I was looking for, I queried Google using sunbeam scm2412. Normally such a unique combination of keywords would be powerful enough to return the product and (I assumed) related parts.  That was not the case.

I did find the unit but nothing about replacement parts or filters. Expanding the query to include the words filter and replace didn't help. I ended up taking the humidifier apart to see the object I was searching for. No part number, but I could clearly see that the filter did not match the types I was finding online. Even a 'deep web' search of filter databases didn't turn it up. As far as I could determine, Sunbeam doesn't have a filter associated with the model scm2412.

The only alternative, short of picking up the phone to a supplier, was to reconsider and browse some of the sites selling the unit.  I had already browsed amazon.com, www.appliancefactoryparts.com, www.filters-now.com, shopping.yahoo.com, www.marbeck.com/humidifier_filters_sunbeam.html, www.nextag.com/sunbeam-humidifier/shop-html, www.householdappliance.com/, www.hardwareandtools.com/ and probably others without much success. I did notice that the name Jarden was often paired with Sunbeam, but I wasn't sure what to do with that.

Then there was eBay. I had exhausted the majority of the "official" distribution sites that might have proprietary information about the filter. From past experience I know that people who sell on eBay often provide their own descriptions. I found someone selling the unit and there in the description (I had to scan the page) were the words replacement filter: Jarden SW2002.

With those keywords I was able quickly to find the cheapest price online and placed an order.

It occurred to me that I had mined information from eBay before when I wasn't looking to buy something. For example, I've done research on 'beer engines' -- professional language for the equipment used to draw a pint (a fact I discovered on eBay) -- to determine how they work. I also learned a good deal about concertinas in eBay. Obviously, product-related information is going to be most prolific, so I wouldn't recommend going there to research the causes of WWI.  But if you want to find out about specific WWI hand weapons, I'm sure someone is offering that information for free.

There remains the matter about vetting the information. In my case, I fact-checked it and found the replacement filter. It's always a smart idea to see if the information found in an unvetted database can be verified or replicated.

I'm curious if you or your students have also found useful information in eBay or similar sites that you care to write about.

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