Human evolution to COVID
Human evolution to COVID
Image credit Paul P. Joseph

For the last two years, I have been publishing a list of books that I genuinely find impactful. But 2020, like many, has been quite different for me. This year profoundly made me realize how valuable books can be in your life. With everything happening around you, good books tend to become your trusted source of companionship. They obviate the constant influx of distractions and make you think and reason the world even better. In 2020, I again got a chance to read up on a wide range of subjects, and below are my recommendations.

  1. How Not to Die by Michael Greger — It was fascinating to read the science behind the food we eat. The author has done immense research on healthy eating. This book can be life-saving, literally, for many. Though I have not done everything the author suggested, I am slowly changing my food habits for the better. …

Participating universities will structure listing data to help solve a real-world ecommerce challenge.

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After last year’s success, eBay is once again hosting a machine learning competition on an ecommerce dataset of eBay listings. This challenge is open to college and university students, and the winning team* will be offered a 2021 summer internship with eBay.

We invite students to start using our dataset to solve a real-world ecommerce challenge. There are many datasets out there, but the primary focus has been recommender systems, price estimation, computer vision, Natural Language Processing (NLP), and more. None have been at a scale pertaining to mapping unstructured items to well-cataloged products. …


We challenged more than 100 college students at seven universities to structure listing data using AI and machine learning.

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At eBay, we use state-of-the-art machine learning (ML), statistical modeling and inference, knowledge graphs, and other advanced technologies to solve business problems associated with massive amounts of data, much of which enters our system unstructured, incomplete, and sometimes, incorrect. To help surface fresh ideas on how we can solve this problem, we partnered with university students at institutions across the country to host an ML competition to spur more research in the ecommerce domain using our very own dataset — 1 million selected public data from unlabeled listings. What we didn’t expect was the number of learnings that surfaced from the submissions. …


Death by a thousand cuts is a popular figure of speech that refers to a failure that occurs as a result of many small problems. It has a negative connotation to it and is referenced on many occasions when things go wrong, and there is no one primary reason to blame. We have a similar story at eBay, but this time on a positive note. In 2019, we started working on an initiative called “Speed” to improve the performance of end-user experiences across major consumer channels — iOS, Android, and Web. Fast forward today, we have made significant improvements to our speed numbers, both globally and across all platforms, but there was no one major contributing factor. It was a culmination of many small enhancements (or “cuts” as we call it) that moved the needle. …


Illustration of the quote “What’s Better than a Good Book and a Great Meal?”
Illustration of the quote “What’s Better than a Good Book and a Great Meal?”
Image credit Paul P. Joseph

In 2018 I published my first reading list. Another year has swiftly elapsed. Continuing with the tradition, I am posting the 2019 list of non-fiction books that I thoroughly enjoyed and found genuinely impactful. Like last year, the list includes a wide range of topics that empowers you to understand the world around us even better.

  1. Factfulness by Hans Rosling — The world today is in a much better place than ever before. Yes, there is negativity around us, but the progress is truly remarkable and hardly ever mentioned.
  2. Five Lessons by Ben Hogan— I started learning golf last year. But I was still struggling with certain swings. Someone suggested this book, and it was indeed a game-changer. …

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Trade has played a critical role in the history of humanity and yet, data from ecommerce, the modern form of trading, has received limited attention from academia. We at eBay want to change that.

At eBay, we use state-of-the-art machine learning (ML), statistical modeling and inference, knowledge graphs, and other advanced technologies to solve business problems associated with massive amounts of data, much of which enters our system unstructured, incomplete, and sometimes incorrect. The use cases include query expansion and ranking, image recognition, recommendations, price guidance, fraud detection, machine translation, and more.

Though most of the above use cases are common among other technology companies, there is a very distinctive and unique challenge that pertains only to eBay — making sense of more than 1.3 billion listings, of which many are unstructured. Currently, we use our in-house machine learning solutions to approach this problem, but we also want to grow our community and future technologists that haven’t had access to this type of data. By working with universities, we hope that it will pique academic curiosity within ML, spur more research in the ecommerce domain powered by a real-world ecommerce dataset, and help us improve our platform. …


By Senthil Padmanabhan and Pranav Jha

From the time it was announced, WebAssembly caused a huge buzz in the front-end world. The web community readily embraced the idea of taking code written in programming languages other than JavaScript and running that code in the browser. Above all WebAssembly consistently guarantees native speeds much faster than JavaScript. At eBay, we were no different. Our engineers were very excited about this idea and kept a constant eye on the spec and its evolution. Once WebAssembly 1.0 was shipped in all major browsers, teams around eBay were eager to try it out.

But there was a problem. Though there are many use cases and applications that would benefit from WebAssembly, the scope of the technology within ecommerce is still primitive. We were not able to find a proper use case to leverage WebAssembly. A few suggestions came up, but we were better off with JavaScript itself. At eBay, when we evaluate new technologies, the first question we ask is “What potential value does this add to our customers?” Unless there is clarity around this, we do not proceed to the next step. It is very easy to be carried away by the new shiny thing, often forgetting the fact that it may not make any difference to our customers and only complicate the existing workflow. User experience always trumps developer experience. But WebAssembly was different. It has tremendous potential, we just did not have the right use case. Well, that changed recently. …


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My 2018 non-fiction reading list included an eclectic list of topics ranging from history, politics, biographies, health, finance, personal development, and the future. The diversity in topics helped me gain deep insights into our world and brought a whole new perspective. Truly eye-opening.

  1. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande— A simple tool at our disposal. We often take checklists for granted, but when put to proper use can be incredibly effective.
  2. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari— A brilliant pragmatic overview of our History.
  3. Unshakable by Tony Robbins — A good read for folks like me, who are less interested in financial jargons and more interested in financial independence. …

The web platform has been evolving at a very rapid pace. One particular feature that has been in limelight in recent years is the Web Push API. Web push notifications allow users to opt-in to timely updates from their favorite sites and effectively re-engage with relevant content. A capability that was exclusive to native apps was opened up to the web platform. Many sites started embracing the notification capability and the adoption steadily grew. Over a period of time, the sites that prompt the browser permission dialog became overwhelming. It has, in fact, reached a point that Firefox added a preference that will block sites from even asking for permission to users. …


As web developers, we have seen the guidelines for building UI components evolve over the years. Starting from jQuery UI to the current Custom Elements, various patterns have emerged. To top it off, there are numerous libraries and frameworks, each advocating their own style on how a component should be built. So in today’s world, what would be the best approach in terms of thinking about a UI component interface? That is the essence of this blog. Huge thanks to folks mentioned in the bottom Acknowledgments section. …

About

Senthil Padmanabhan

Vice President, Technical Fellow at eBay

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