Thing a Week 26: Ersatz Arbitrage

WANTED: Python developer w/ familiarity with neural networks
Posted: 12 hours ago

I’m looking for a Python developer who also knows how to work with neural networks and capable of digging into existing code to fix a few bugs.

You must be comfortable signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) before beginning work on this project. I hired to make sure the bot is fully legal to run, but it is against some Terms of Service for the sites it interacts with. Once you sign your NDA I’ll give a brief overview of the bot to get you up to speed.

The code’s a bit of a mess (I’m told) because I’ve used so many different freelancers to work on it, so I’d ideally like to hire someone who’s willing to take on ongoing projects if needed. I’m not a coder myself so I’d like to just give you full access to anything you need to clean up the code, fix a few bugs, and add a few seemingly-small features.

Please let me know if you fit these qualifications and want in on a major money maker! I’m willing to pay your rate upfront or over time in a profit-sharing program from the bot’s profits. Thank you!

UPDATE: Tom has accepted your proposal for this job. Congratulations!
UPDATE: Your NDA has been signed successfully and is now in effect.

You’re now chatting with Tom. Say hi!

Tom: So, basically, the bot makes money by coordinating buys and sells of items across online marketplaces. I originally hired someone to build it to manage my Craigslist accounts so one account could post that they were selling some item (for a little more than I bought it for) and another account could post that they wanted to buy that item (for a lot more than it’s worth). People browsing Craigslist would theoretically see both and think they could buy the item from one account and make a big profit by immediately reselling it to the second account. The bot handles basic conversations (“yes, it’s still available” and “yes, I’m still looking to buy that”) and the actual sale, which automatically flips the other account into a not-buying mode (“sorry, I already found one”) once the first account sells the item.

Tom: That actually worked really well, so I hired someone else to implement other marketplaces (so we have Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Amazon, and a few other niche sites) and to extend the inventory management system, and someone else to implement some kind of product acquisition system. That’s the first piece of neural network stuff I don’t totally understand, but I put in a monthly budget and it supposedly just watches each of these markets for “resellable” products that it thinks we can make a profit on and buys them. Sometimes I have to take over the conversation since the chatbot doesn’t always work when it’s negotiating pickup, but they usually either mail me the item (I pay a little extra to ship) or I post another “odd job” post across marketplaces in that area for someone to go pick the item up in person and mail it to me. This whole transaction process could be improved a lot, but it works well enough for now. Might be some future work for you though if you do well on this project.

Tom: That’s pretty much all there is to it. My last developer gave me a list of bugs that need fixing. It’s attached below. Thanks!

File attachment: arbitrage-todo-list.txt

  1. I tried to implement temporal limits on when the bot posts to each market so it’s more in line with when someone would be awake and/or out of work in those markets, but I think there’s something wrong in the timezone code and it seems to just be posting whenever. This is probably a small fix.
  2. Haggling (both in buying items and responding to people trying to haggle on sales) is implemented but needs a way to customize aggressiveness. The neural network right now tries to guess the min/max prices people would buy/sell items at to maximize profits, but Tom said he wants to adjust how aggressively the chatbot tries to negotiate those optimal prices.
  3. For some reason, the code that finds new marketplaces to vet profitability has started targeting small forums and discussion sites (and the rare reddit post). The bot seems to only post listings looking to buy items (never any sale listings) and leads to a lot of site bans. We should limit the code to only post on actual marketplaces.
  4. The AI is extremely resource-intensive across the board (but mostly in processing messages and generating responses, as well as categorizing found products into likely-profitability categories), so we should probably implement some kind of dynamic resource scaling that lets the bot spin up additional servers when it needs more processing power. It’d be nice to link this to the bot’s profits so it can pay for itself.

Tom: That should be all for now. Does that all sound doable to you? If so, I’d also like to hop on a quick call sometime to discuss a few other features that it’d be faster to just tell you instead of typing, but I’ll send one of those self-deleting messages shortly with a few bullets for what I’m thinking, just because I haven’t thought it all through yet and don’t want to commit to anything specifically. Thanks again for your help!

Ephemeral message received: this message will auto-delete in 24 hours.
Tom: Sending this self-deleting because I’m not actually sure of the legality yet (I’ll have a lawyer check into it and see if there’s anything we can do), but it’d probably be hugely profitable if we could also have a system to hook up data leaks whenever they happen to companies. We can find the leaked accounts and passwords manually (I’m happy to just find them and upload them), but it’d also be cool to interface with some of those darknet sites that post them and do it automatically.

Ephemeral message received: this message will auto-delete in 24 hours.
Tom: If we get those accounts, we should be able to hook that up to the language generation stuff and have real people posting about the stuff they’re buying/selling and link to our listings. Would probably be a huge way to get pairs of buying/selling particular items in front of more eyeballs (imagine if we could have one person “buying” one item for a lot, and one of their friends selling that same item — and all of their mutual friends seeing both listings).

Ephemeral message received: this message will auto-delete in 24 hours.
Tom: Now that I think about it, we could probably also use those leaked usernames and passwords to see what other services they’re valid on. Like, take someone’s Facebook password and see if it also works to log into their Gmail. Or even just find email account links and send password reset links to Facebook/etc to their email and take over their accounts, pose as them until they’ve made some sales, etc.

Tom: Let me know when a good time to hop on a call is for you! I’m excited to make this work, and I think there’ll be a lot of money in it for both of us!

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