Saving Money on Amazon with CamelCamelCamel

Occasionally, I’ll see a price on Amazon and wonder whether it’s really a fair price or not. Did Amazon recently hike it up? What about the 3rd-party vendor prices for new and used versions of that product? It’s hard to tell.

I found a site today called CamelCamelCamel that does exactly that, and it really impresses me. For those of you who are savvy to JavaScript bookmarklets, you’ll know what to do with this little puppy I hacked together tonight: View Amazon Price History. If you’re not familiar with bookmarklets, don’t click that link yet. Just add it to your bookmarks and I’ll show you how to use it in a minute.

The idea behind CamelCamelCamel (whose obvious logo I love like a guilty pleasure) is fairly simple. If you wonder whether the Amazon price or the 3rd-party vendor price of any product on Amazon’s site is a little fishy, you can look at the item’s price over time, in a handy graph, and find out whether now is a good time to make your purchase. You can even subscribe to an RSS feed and watch the price change, or get an email alert when the price drops below a certain level. Useful! They also have lists of popular products and products with the biggest price drops in the last few days.

OK, let’s try it! If you’ve saved the View Amazon Price History link as a bookmark, you’re ready to go.

Let’s say you’re shopping for a good Digital SLR camera and you come across the Canon Digital Rebel XSi. Once you’re on that page (or any product page) you can click the bookmarklet you’ve just saved and you’ll be automatically transported to the corresponding page on CamelCamelCamel. The graphs will tell you that Amazon’s price is just below average right now, but it was a lot lower in early April. (I found it surprising that Amazon changes its price as often and as much as it does, both up and down, on brand-new products.) The 3rd-party new cameras are also below average, and certainly below the recent highest price. The used version, however, is near the peak of the highest price, so if you’re buying used, it’s probably best to wait a week or two and save $30 or more.

It’s a great little web application with a solid business model (kickbacks from purchases you make via their links). I just couldn’t help but share. Enjoy!

(Footnote: I know that CamelCamelCamel is supposed to be spelled with all lowercase letters, but how could I resist using camel case?)

In God We Trust

A couple weeks ago, I told this story to a close friend of mine. I made it clear I didn’t have plans to share it publicly. He exhorted me to share it with all of you. I don’t share this in order to puff myself up or put myself on any kind of pedestal. It may do the opposite, I don’t know. I share it in the hopes that it will help or encourage somebody, even a little. Most of all, I hope it glorifies God and spreads the truth.

The two weeks following the loss of my job in mid-January 2009 were the darkest of my life. I did a fairly good job of keeping up a confident face for the world to see, but internally I was mentally and spiritually in shreds from constant worry. My thoughts were a stream of this type: What happens when the little money we have runs out? How will we feed ourselves? Will Caleb suffer due to decisions I’ve made? Will Stephanie suffer due to decisions I’ve made? What happens if we lose our house? If we sell this house now, won’t we lose money due to the state of the economy? If so, we won’t be able to afford to get another one, will we? Will I live with my parents for years to come? Shouldn’t I turn the heat down and just endure constant cold to save money? Shouldn’t we go hungry a little to save money? Is this the beginning of the end? Have I made some mistake that I’m being judged for, and there’s nothing I can do to save myself and my family now?

Everything everywhere was covered in a thick layer of doom.

I went out and purchased thermal pants (i.e. long johns). I wore them every day under my jeans. That’s the state of mind I was in. It was almost as though I was afraid I would freeze to death somehow. (In my defense, it really was extremely cold outside for those two weeks, but I agree the fear was entirely irrational.) At the time, I was desperate for anything that would reduce my worrying to any degree. If I had to find a dozen little anti-worry solutions that were highly effective when taken together, I would do that. Having interviews for new jobs helped. Talking with loved ones helped. Watching anything (especially funny stuff) that pulled my focus off our dire situation helped.

When Steph would ask me what would make me happiest, my answer was something like, “a big, fat, consistent paycheck.” Whichever job offered me the most money and seemed reasonably enjoyable, that’s the one I would take. Emotionally, that’s where my trust was. Money would make everything better. If only I had money, I would be happy and I wouldn’t have anything to worry about.

I’m writing this entry to convey one thing: those thoughts about money are horrible, devastating lies. I believed them, and I placed my trust and my security in money. Losing my job hurt me so deeply because it cut off my bi-weekly flow of security. That’s why the worry started, and that was the root of my problem.

I have a feeling I’m not the only one who has struggled with this issue. Think of it this way: pull some American money out of your pocket if you have any. Bills or coins, it doesn’t matter. You’ll notice every single piece has one phrase in common: “In God We Trust.” Why do you think, of all the places that phrase could be written, they chose to put it on money? I don’t know why they did, but I think it’s both amazingly wise, and incredibly ironic. Wise because that is the one place in which that reminder is most desperately needed, and ironic because it is true of so few people. For most, including myself at times, it is a total lie. (I honestly don’t care whether they keep the phrase written on American money or not. I care most whether or not we keep it written in our hearts.)

For me, the moment of testing came down to my job acceptance process. I had two job offers: one from a large, well-established, for-profit company, and one from a small, new, non-profit. The for-profit company was offering me more security than the non-profit, but the non-profit’s work was extremely exciting to me, I loved the people, and it seemed to be the closest to ministry I would likely get while still using my Computer Science degree every day. Something about that lit a fire in me, and I took the job with less security.

Listen, I am not saying this to toot my own horn. Please, if you’re getting stuck on that, you’re missing my point. My point is that I’m still here. I survived the decision, and God is taking care of me and my family. God is our security in a more real way than ever before. Does that mean I’ll be perfectly wonderful forever? No, especially not by American cultural standards (which, take note, are not the same thing as Christianity). What it means is that I’ll always have everything God wants me to have. When I’m in the midst of difficulty, it’s brought by God. A lack of money or health or anything is brought by God.

I think I can live with that. Worry-free.

How Twitter Will Make Money

The topic of how Twitter might make money is so popular these days that people are writing Onion-like parodies of news stories announcing Twitter’s plans. That particular story was a really popular link on Twitter today.

But the question remains: how will Twitter make money? I think I know at least one of the ways they’ll do it, and I’m surprised that more people aren’t talking about this.

I discovered a service called I Want Sandy a year or two ago and became a user almost immediately. The gist of the idea: Sandy is your virtual assistant, reminding you of tasks and appointments as you like. The interesting part wasn’t just that Sandy kept your calendars and to-do lists organized, but that she did it all through a human-readable text-based interface. I could send Sandy an email saying something to the effect of, “Remind me to buy milk tomorrow at 5pm” right in the subject line of the email. (I believe she also had an IM interface, and of course a web interface.) And sure enough, tomorrow at 5pm I would get an SMS message (if that was my preferred method of communication) that reminded me to buy milk. Simple. Human. Useful! I found myself being confident to take on tasks and make promises knowing that I wouldn’t forget things. Sure, I’ll ping you next Tuesday about that. (Send message to Sandy.) Oh, your birthday is when? (Send message to Sandy.) You get the idea.

When Twitter came around, the folks at I Want Sandy were smart enough to register the ultra-short @s Twitter name and allow people to send messages to Sandy through that interface. I was already on Twitter and it was a convenient way to augment the service. I could be reminded of events and to-dos through Twitter direct messages too, instead of just SMS and email.

Fast-forward to November 2008. The company who runs I Want Sandy, Values of n, announced that they were purchased by Twitter. And the CEO, Rael Dornfest, became a Twitter User Experience engineer. Aha! I Want Sandy went offline in December 2008 and is no longer functional.

It seems nearly a sure thing to me that if Twitter has acquired all the intellectual property behind I Want Sandy that they’ll be integrating it with the service. It seemed to work so well that I’m not sure how they’d improve it besides tightening and deepening the service’s integration with, but we’ll see. I’d love it if they offered it for free to make Twitter more palatable and useful to more people, but I could easily see paying $1 / month to get reminders from Twitter over SMS (or whatever) because I personally know how useful they were to me, and I know the gaping hole their absence has left. Twitter has stated that they won’t be reducing the value of their service by charging for Twitter features that are currently free. This would certainly be something over and above what is built into Twitter, and offering it as a premium, for-pay service wouldn’t reduce the value of Twitter in anyone’s mind.

So that’s my guess on at least one way they’ll make money. We’ll see if I’m right!