Student's online auction "bid bot" code goes viral with tech community
11/23/2010

An application knocked up in a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon by a Waikato University student to automatically buy random items on TradeMe (online auction site) has gone viral in the international tech community and attracted attention from Iran to Russia – and could be the answer to everyone’s Christmas presents problems this year.

Online PR News – 23-November-2010 – – The “bid bot”, created by computer science PhD student Paul Hunkin, gets $1 a day to spend, and searches TradeMe every evening for newly-listed items in its price range. It then picks the rarest item in the list to bid on and buy, and tweets what it’s bought.

The programme is set up with a one-in-three chance of making a purchase, and can “save” what it doesn’t spend.

It’s been up and running for just over a week, with a few tweaks, and so far it’s bought watch batteries, a USB cable, some collectable cards and rare stamps – and some temporary tattoos.

Probably not exactly what you’d want to find under the Christmas tree, but Hunkin says the possibilities are there – with a bit more tweaking – for the “bid bot” to buy a wider range of items.

“I’ve had a couple of donations now from people on the internet, so once I put those into the bot’s savings, it’ll be interesting to see what happens,” he says.

Hunkin, who’s from Katikati, got the idea from an xkcd cartoon (www.xkcd.com -- the tech community’s go-to humour site). “TradeMe recently released software which lets people connect with the site,” he says. “Then I stumbled across the comic and thought that’s genius, I should do that”

He’s not the first to try, but he may be the first to have created something that works – judging by the response from the tech community where the story has gone viral. It’s been picked up all over the world, including Iran, Sweden, China and Russia.

Since launching the “bid bot”, Hunkin has had 190,000 visitors to his blog, and his followers on Twitter have leapt to more than 4,300. “It took me two years to get to 100 followers on Twitter; then I got 2,000 literally overnight,” he says. “So it looks as if I’ve created a bot that’s bigger than me.”

Hunkin says he’s had lots of requests for the code, but is still fine-tuning the program. “I wasn’t really expecting it to take off like this, so it’s a bit rough round the edges,” he says. “There’s probably some money to be made from it if I was inclined, and I haven’t ruled that out.”