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eBay adds email notification

The free Personal Shopper service will alert users when items they are looking for hit the auction block.

Online shopping has already reduced the need for some people to head to the mall. Now, eBay, the popular person-to-person auction site, is hoping to cut out one more step for shoppers.

The company unveiled Personal Shopper, a free service that will notify users via email of items when items they're looking for go on the auction block at eBay.

The service is another step toward personalizing the shopping experience for consumers on the Web, where the amount of product and pricing information can be overwhelming. That is especially true on a site like eBay, which has almost 2 million auctions going on its site every day.

Previously, users had to manually search for new items each time they logged onto eBay. With Personal Shopper, which is based on a NetMind Technologies' product, users can track individual items by keyword, description, or price range. Users can also specify how often they would like to receive email notifications for new listings.

The Personal Shopper service "sifts through the action, zeros in on items of interest, and then delivers information about those auctions directly to our users," eBay's senior vice president of marketing Brian Swette said in a statement.

NetMind's application uses "change detection" technology to track Web-based information at any level of detail notify users when the information changes, via email, pager, cellular phone, or PDA. NetMind's technology is used by several Fortune 500 companies, including Boeing and Hitachi to track intranet content and accelerate business processes.

NetMind chief executive Matt Freivald said that the eBay deal is not exclusive, leaving the door open for his company to license the software to the auction site's competitors.

"This process of letting the user select what they want at a very fine level of granularity is inevitable," said Freivald. "I think you will see people either making it themselves or buying it from us because it is driven by the need of the customer."

Yahoo's auction site provides email and pager alerts to sellers who receive bids on their items and shoppers whose bids are accepted.Amazon.com, which is also plowing into the auction business, has a service that alerts users of when there is action in categories chosen by the user, but doesn't notify users when specific items become available.

Auction Web sites are not the only ones to provide personalized notifications. E*Trade, an online brokerage firm, sends its account holders "Smart Alerts" to notify them of stock price and market fluctuations.

NetMind, founded in 1996, is a privately held company based in Campbell, California and Santa Cruz, California. Investors include Softbank Ventures, BancBoston Ventures, and TechFarm.

Freivald declined to comment on whether the company had any plans for a initial public offering.

Shares of eBay surged 9.9 percent or 17.19 points to 189.19 in morning trading. The stock has traded as high as 195 and as low as 8.42 during the past 52 weeks.