While I am still (relatively) new to eBay, I can see eBay has been, and is continuing to, change into a technology company. That is, more and more focus is being put on technology as a means to enable innovation rather than just a means to keep the business running. Lots of work has been done in the Mobile space, work is ongoing in the web interface, and for me the Cassini project where we are reworking the search engine.
So why is eBay rewriting their own search engine? Why not just use an existing one? There are many reasons – I will give a few that resonate with me personally.
- Search is so fundamental to eBay that it’s worth the investment. This is not true for all companies, but at eBay search is a key ways of helping buyers and sellers find each other.
- Having complete control over how search works (not being subject to an external party who may change the search engine rules) is another key aspect.
- eBay is not a web search engine – it does not index web pages. Instead, search supports looking for items for sale. Items have a lot of aspects that can be useful to search on such as price, condition, location (which impacts shipping time and cost), the reputation of the seller, etc. The search engine when ranking results has a wealth of different information that can be utillitized.
- Unlike a web search engine, its not just a matter of finding some information that satisfies the need. If a web search engine finds any page of interest, its done its job. eBay is responsible for making sure buyers can find what they want, and for making sure that sellers get a fair of views to what they have to offer. Both buyers and sellers are eBay’s customers and eBay has a responsiblity to both.
- Minor changes to search rules can make big impacts to sellers. A buyer may shrug and move on if they don’t find what they want. A seller however if their listing is never shown won’t get a sale and will go away unhappy. Ultimately eBay’s goal is to put listings up in front of users who want to buy the product. It is not to put up items in front of as many people as possible. It’s a waste of time putting things in front of people if they are not interested.
- eBay is responsible for supporting from big companies to grannies – this diversity is one of the strenghts and responsibilities of eBay. eBay takes it’s responsiblity towards individual sellers seriously.
So the above talks about why eBay has its own search engine. The control over how it behaves is central to eBay. But why Cassini? Cassini is the next generation of search engine for eBay, replacing the current Voyager engine. When Cassini launches users probably won’t see much difference. The release will be done gradually and carefully. Over time however the new features of Cassini will enable further improvements and innovations to be possible, delivering benefit to eBay customers (buyers and sellers both).
Its an exciting time for me on this project as we move towards getting Cassini out the door. That will be a rewarding time. But then the real fun starts. Technically there are so many unique and challenging aspects of the project that are different to just text search. There will be new opportunities for chasing improvements and innovations based on the new code base. On the personal side it impacts real people’s lives who run their business on eBay. I think part of the fun is also the team is still relatively small – you can know everyone involved. Good times!