Monday, March 09, 2009

The Eye of the Beholder

Been to eBay? ePier? Craig's List? What is the common denominator to these sites? In a word — ugly. They pay little attention to the aesthetics (good thing I have a spell checker) and just throw all the content at you in a big fat pile of... well, you get the idea. What are we Mac users going to do? Well, there are two applications out there at the moment that come swooping in from the mainsails like Errol Flynn (yeah, he was before Capt. Jack Sparrow).

The first is GarageBuy, free from developer iwascoding, also creators of GarageSale, a great product for selling your stuff on eBay and GaragePay, for tracking your transactions on PayPal. In order to use GarageBuy (GB), you need to have an eBay account. You can use an existing account or create one when you first launch the app. Then you must establish a connection between GB and eBay through the use of a token, which is downloaded to the app, essentially giving it permission to exchange data with eBay. This is a pretty painless process and you only need to do it once. The benefit of doing this is that you can search, watch auctions, and place bids without having to go into your browser to do it.

Ah, the Mac-ness. Similar in look to most Apple-made interfaces like iTunes, GB allows you to create, edit and save searches in the left column while the rest of the window is used for displaying the results. You can see the search results in either a Gallery, Table or Image view.

  • Gallery view shows you the image and vital info. Sort by clicking Time Left, Current Price, Buy it Now Price or Title, can enlarge the main photo.
  • Table view shows you the auctions in a one-line list. Sort by Type, Title, Current Price, BIN Price, Total, Time Left, Shipping, # of Items, Bids.
  • Image view shows you the auctions like Polaroids on a board, complete with cute little Post-it notes showing the price and auction title below like a caption.
All modes allow you to see ended auctions via a strike through the title. Nice touch there.

Then you also have the option of viewing the details of a single auction in either a summary or eBay page mode, as well as a tool-tip. You really get the most out of this app by maximizing your screen. You can send the link of a particular auction to your default mail app, even generate an iCal event or an AppleScript from the auction.

Problems? The only functional problem was the first time I tried switching detail view. Initially, it didn't show the eBay page, just a blank white screen. But then it started working and then all was right with the world. Couldn't reproduce it. Other thoughts? Well, I was going to say that GB is a little top-heavy when it comes to features, but they are so well implemented and unobtrusive that you can ignore them if you want and use them when you have need. And they do provide you with all the same eBay features, otherwise what would be the point? So, no, this is a great tool for keeping up with your eBay searches. If only they could figure out a way to jump to the app when you go to eBay in your browser...

Another online service, Craig's List is even worse in terms of design. Josh Abernathy, author of the app Marketplace, even says on the default page of his app, "Craig's List without the Ugly." And so it is. Much like GarageBuy, Marketplace (MP) offers Mac users a Mac-incentric way of looking at items for sale on Craig's List. But where GarageBuy has to worry about all the features that eBay has and reproduce them in their app, MP offers a simple clean, no-nonsense interface with just the right amount of pretty and functionality. No account required, no tokens, no linking to the website (Please note that this is not a problem with GB, it's a requirement of eBay. Craig's List has no such requirement.). Just search, scan the results and view the page. Look for items with photos only, with the same category and region options as Craig's List. Search titles and descriptions. Filter your results just like using the Finder or Mail (nice idea, that.) MP uses a tri-pane view to show the searches, results and details, which you can orient either horizontally stacked or in column view. Send promising listings to friends via email.

Only nit-picky issues have I found, like the current view not being checked in the menu and the lack of sorting options. I already exchanged emails to Josh regarding sorting and some implementation of a Cover-Flow like view, which he says he is considering for a future update. I guess the only downside is this app does cost money, $19.95. It was featured on MUPromo just the other day for $9.99 and then for an additional few days at $13.96. With GarageBuy being given away, it's hard to shell out the cash for this, but maybe if it was offered for $9.99, more people would be tempted. I think it's a great little app for any Mac user who uses Craig's List. I bought it.

Overall, I think free or very-low-cost niche market software is a great concept and I applaud the efforts of these and other small companies in making these products available. Show your appreciation by using and buying them and keep them making great Mac software. Now, if only someone could create an app like this that is site independent...