Why Cassini at eBay is not “yet another search engine”

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!


  1. i am glad to hear that you realize that there are real people being affected by the changes being made. 2 years ago, we began experiencing a glitch where we “fell” out of search results every 60 days immediately following the TRS evaluation on the 20th. Not every month, but every other month. Not once did we lose our TRS during that time. After reporting this more than a dozen times, after being told that there was a serious issue and being made promises that it was being looked into. NOT A SINGLE EBAYER HAS EVER CONTACTED US, FOLLOWED UP OR RESPONDED WITH A SOLUTION AND THE ISSUE IS STILL HAPPENING TODAY.

    You will have to work a lot harder to convince the 1000’s of sellers who deal with the glitches caused by the technological advances which cause real world destruction.

    “BUT THEN THE REAL FUN STARTS” doesn’t sound good to Sellers who have experienced them first hand.

    1. Hi Anne, Thanks for the comment. I am certainly not going to pretend that eBay does not have problems to overcome. But hopefully the following is of some interest.

      Any change to search does impact people (buyers and sellers). I know some sellers go to a lot of effort to tune their entries to get best possible ranking. Any change eBay makes can upset those optimizations. But eBay cannot stop making changes and so it knows some listings will drop as soon as any other listing rises in search results. Ebay does its best internally to meet all needs.

      That does not excuse bad Customer Service. I don’t know the details of your situation. The only good news I can share is I am seeing a much higher emphasis internally on trying to fix bad customer experiences. Sorry, for confidentiality reasons I cannot say the activities I have heard of. I also don’t work in that area within eBay so should not speak on their behalf.

      “But then the real fun starts” was talking about the opportunities that will become possible to do a better job of putting products in front of people who want to buy them. I do enjoy my job, so “fun” is a reflection of that. The enjoyment of making positive change. One thing that is hard to explain is if two users search eBay, eBay does not guarantee they will get the same results. We can use what we know about the customer (e.g. previous purchases) to do our best to optimize that experience for that customer. So if you (as the seller) search eBay, that won’t necessarily be the same as what buyers see. Ebay behind the scenes is very interested in putting products in front of people who want to buy them. If a product gets shown half as often, but to the right people, then its a win for the seller. Ebay does a lot of analytics internally to do the best job of this it can. So it is actually difficult for a seller to correctly verify if their own listings are being correctly put in front of customers. Sorry, I cannot go into huge details here for confidentiality reasons. It is one of the frustrations of a search engine – it can deliver better results, but be hard to explain sometimes why to an individual.

      And eBay is responsible to all sellers, not just one. If a current seller is not getting a fair showing and we change something to improve that, an existing seller must go down. The seller who went up is happy, the seller that went down is not. The ultimate way to make all sellers happy is to get more sold overall.

      This DOES NOT mean there are not faults. And I am not saying your experience is not due to a fault – it sounds strange. And yes, change does increase the chance of glitches. But I will say it is absolutely in eBay’s interests to put seller’s products in front of people who will buy them. Happy buyers mean more sales. More sales is good for sellers and eBay. Ebay does lots of measurement and analytics to measure every bit of improvement. Some of the changes will not work, changes do increase the chance of problems (to be fixed), but overall eBay can measure the net improved result of the changes. So eBay will/must/should push forward with change (even though painful at times) as it knows that the end result is better for everyone. A static system that does not change (improve) I believe would be worse.

      But I 100% understand and agree that eBay has a big responsibility to do things carefully. I and do see that all around eBay internally. And I do see problems to be fixed – there is no hiding from that either. But I am seeing a greater internal focus on those problems.

      Note: I may not be able to respond to every problem reported here in my blog (I am not a one man customer support operation), but I will read them! I will probably only publish ones I plan to respond to – there are other forums for reporting problems.

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