Hack 59 Host Your Own Photos


Bypass eBay's photo restrictions by hosting auction photos on your own server.

Any photos that appear in your auctions must be stored on a web server somewhere; which one you use is up to you. When you use eBay's Picture Services, you're instructing eBay to store your photos on their own dedicated picture server and link them to your auction automatically. While this is the easiest and most convenient way to host photos, it's also fraught with limitations.

Hosting photos off-eBay has tons of advantages over using eBay's Picture Services (ePS). For instance, you can:

  • Include as many photos as you like in any auction at no additional charge.

  • Include photos of any size with no "supersize" fees. With ePS, photos are limited to 400 x 300, or, for an additional fee, 800 x 600 (supersize).

Large photos are more striking and show much more detail than small ones, and will end up getting you more bids. The problem with eBay's supersize photos is that they appear only when bidders click the Supersize Picture links beneath the thumbnails. If you host your own photos, you can put the large versions right in the auction (as many as you like), so your bidders don't have to click to see them. This is especially helpful if you choose to create a photo collage [Hack #63].

  • Control the quality (compression) settings of your JPG photos. ePS has a tendency to over-compress photos, which reduces detail and increases fuzziness.

  • Use very long or very wide images that don't conform to the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. These would otherwise be shrunk beyond recognition to conform to eBay's 400 x 300 size limit.

  • Make changes to photos while an auction is running, even after it has received bids. You'll also have control over how long the images remain in your auctions after they've closed.

  • Place your photos directly in the text of your auction descriptions or use a more creative photo presentation, such as [Hack #60], [Hack #61], or [Hack #62].

  • Reuse the same photos for multiple auctions without having to upload them repeatedly.

  • Include logos and section headers right in your text.

All that's required to host your own auction photos is access to a web server on which you have an account. If you don't have access to your own server, see Looking for a Good Home.

Looking for a Good Home

If you want to host your auction photos outside of eBay but you don't have access to a web server, never fear?there is always help for those who need it.

Start with your ISP. Most Internet providers offer free web space to their customers, so you might have 20 MB or so of space with your name on it (literally). However, some ISPs specifically lock out image hosting, so if your photos don't load in your auctions, that's probably why.

If your ISP turns you away, you have other options. There are a number of companies that offer space (for a fee) specifically for hosting auction photos, such as www.ipix.com, www.pongo.com, www.pixhost.com, www.inkfrog.com, www.eaph.com, and www.andale.com. But since one of the goals of this hack is to save money by hosting the photos yourself, you may want to look elsewhere.

Some of the sites that offer free auction picture hosting include www.freepicturehosting.com, www.easypichost.com, www.boomspeed.com, and www.villagephotos.com. Each site works a little differently, so make sure to read the fine print.

When selecting a site to host your images, there are a few things to look for. First, make sure the images can be placed in your auctions; you don't want your customers to have to click a link to see your photos (because they won't). Second, since most free sites are advertising-supported, you'll want to make sure the ads don't interfere with your auction (and never pay for image hosting with ads). Finally, the site you choose shouldn't impose the same (or worse) restrictions on your photos that eBay does (see the beginning of this hack).

If you're resigned to paying for image hosting, consider paying for web hosting instead. Simple, no-frills web space is often the best choice, whether you pay for it or get it free with your Internet connection. You'll not only be able to insert photos into your auctions with none of the nonsense that accompanies most image hosting services (ads, logos, restrictions), but you'll also be able to use this space to host an entire web site, including the CGI programs detailed in other hacks in this book.

5.6.1 Sending Photos to the Server

In most cases, an FTP program is required to transfer your images from your computer to your web server. (The exception is when you're using a dedicated picture hosting service that requires you to upload photos through a web page.)

Although nearly every modern computer comes with a command-line FTP client, you'll probably want something a little friendlier and more streamlined. Popular FTP programs include Fetch for the Mac (www.fetchsoftworks.com) and WS_FTP for Windows (www.ipswitch.com). All you'll need is the hostname (the name or address of the server), and your username and password.

Users of most modern versions of Windows (Me, 2000, and XP) can also access FTP servers right from Explorer by typing this URL into Explorer's address bar:


where my_server.com is the hostname or IP address of your FTP server. If you want Explorer to log you in automatically, include your username and password in the URL, like this:


The FTP server then acts like any ordinary folder, where files can be drag-dropped, deleted, renamed, or moved into subfolders.

When hosting your own photos, be sure to choose appropriate filenames for your image files; otherwise they may not work as expected. Make sure the filenames are all-lowercase and have no spaces whatsoever. Avoid special characters, like #, @, and %. Also, the images should use the JPG format (described at the beginning of this chapter), except for logos and animated images, which work best as GIFs.

5.6.2 Placing Photos in Your Auctions

The most direct way to include a photo in one of your auctions is eBay's Sell Your Item form. On the Pictures & Details page, choose "Your own Web hosting" and then specify the full URL of your photo:


where image.jpg is the filename of the photo, my_folder is the name of the folder in which the image file is stored, and my_server.com is the hostname. No HTML is required to specify your photos this way, which makes it especially convenient; your images will simply appear beneath your auction description.

If you have more than one photo or if you prefer to place your photos directly in your auction text, use the <img> HTML tag to reference them, like this:

<img src="http://my_server.com/my_folder/image.jpg">

You can include as many pictures as you like, but it's up to you to present them in an attractive and efficient manner. Figure 5-8 shows some photos placed right in the text; see [Hack #40] for more information on the <img> tag, including parameters to control alignment and text wrapping.

Figure 5-8. A self-hosted photo appears beneath the auction description unless you insert it into the text with HTML

If you want to place your photos directly in your auction text (using some of the other hacks in this chapter), check the box that says, "The description already contains a picture URL for my item." Otherwise, the little green "picture" icon won't appear next to your item in search results and category listings, and bidders may pass you by.

Other means of image presentation include [Hack #60], [Hack #61], and [Hack #62].