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Tank on Empty: Tales from beyond E


A year after launching Tank on Empty -- a site dedicated to collecting data and anecdotes about how far cars can drive once the warning light goes on -- the project has managed to land Justin Davis in hot water with worrywarts, motor-heads and statisticians . . . not to mention his own mother.

No matter, though, as the 24-year-old freelance Web developer also has won a wide audience among Krameresque thrill seekers and plenty of positive attention from bloggers and the press, including a star turn on 20/20 with John Stossel.

Whatever the nitpickers think of the site’s data, the personal stories of derring-do and irresponsibility that Tank on Empty has collected are a hoot to read . . . and we’ll point you to a few of the better ones in a moment. First, though, I caught up with Davis last week to see how things have been going with the site.

"Google Analytics says I’ve had about 600,000 page views and over 110,000 visits since it started," he says. "My server, on the other hand, would disagree -- it’s transferred closer to 3 million page views."

The Tank on Empty concept is simple: Your light comes on, you hit the trip meter, drive for as long as you can -- or dare -- and then go to the site to submit the number of miles you travelled beyond E. For example, 129 drivers have entered data for the Toyota Corolla, which I drive, logging an average of 44 miles after the light.

Davis continues: "The feedback I receive usually identifies three types of people: The ones who think it’s a fun idea (my favorite); people who don’t think the information is detailed enough because it doesn’t take into account engine size or number of passengers or something (the pedants); and, the people who have to warn against driving on low gas because it’ll hurt your car or could kill you or something (the overreactors). It’s fun to categorize them as people leave messages."

Then there are those who warrant special categories of their own, such as Mom.

"My mother was driving a couple of months ago and the gas light went on," Davis says. "She had heard that those lights usually give you a rather large range (I can’t imagine where she came up with this idea) and in the process ran out of gas. . . . She’s become more skeptical of her light as a result."

As for the stories from those Tank on Empty contributors, they prove once again that it takes all kinds. If you’d like to read a few of the livelier ones, I have flagged a few on Buzzblog.

Is the auction era ending at eBay?

What do I hear as an opening bid for eBay’s once-mighty auction model? . . . Two bits? Anything? Nothing?

Expect very little, at best, according to a BusinessWeek analysis last week of the forces behind the demise of online auctions, namely one-click buying: "Sales at Amazon.com, the leader in online sales of fixed-price goods, rose 37% in the first quarter of 2008. At eBay, where auctions make up 58% of the site’s sales, revenue rose 14%. ‘If I really want something I’m not going to goof around (in auctions) for a small savings,’ says Dave Dribin, a 34-year-old Chicago resident who used to bid on eBay items but now only buys retail."

And why not? Life’s too short.

Executives at eBay insist they have no plans to pull the plug on auctions altogether, but new CEO John Donahoe has made clear
that he sees future growth coming from the company’s fixed-price business, which already accounts for 42% of sales.

As I said, who has time to babysit auction bids?


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