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The Almighty Buck Books Media Book Reviews

The Perfect Store: Inside Ebay 194

Posted by timothy
from the been-burned-and-been-pleased dept.
Peter Wayner passed us this review of Adam Cohen's The Perfect Store, a chronicle of the rise of Ebay. Read on to learn more about the people and ideas behind the dominant online auction site.
The Perfect Store: Inside Ebay
author Adam Cohen
pages 336
publisher Little,Brown
rating 8
reviewer Peter Wayner
ISBN 0-316-15048-7
summary The story of the world's largest online swapmeet, and why it's really not a swapmeet.

According to the tale, an atheist traveled to Rome to check out the Catholic Church, and saw, through some odd gift of divine grace, that the Devil himself was sitting at on the throne of St. Peter and ruling the Church disguised as a Pope. The atheist reflected upon the paradox and then became a devout Roman Catholic. Why? He reasoned that only the one true faith could succeed with the Devil himself in charge.

Leaps of faith take many forms, and none were stranger to the world of the 1990's than the possibility that people might buy objects they've never touched from people they've never met and send money to addresses they've never seen on the basis of a bunch of colored stars summarizing a community's collective opinion. Yet that's eBay -- and now anyone curious about the communion of online buyers and sellers can turn to The Perfect Store by Adam Cohen. The new history chronicles the purity of the founder's vision, the tumultuousness of exponential growth, the tremors of bliss rippling down the spines of the auction winners, the purgatory of crashing servers, the saintly trust of the masses, and the deviltry of the few. Through all of these trials and tests, the company prospered with a steadfast devotion to a libertarian's dream of a frictionless marketplace where buyers and sellers could engage in a conversation to discover the one true price.

The book is sort of a hagiography, although focused more on the marketplace community than the corporate leadership. Almost every twist and turn of the company's history seems to depend upon how well the people adhere to the vision of a hierarchy-free community of buyers and sellers. The company thrives when they make it easy for goods to find the people who want them.

The book begins where eBay itself began: in the vision of the founder, Pierre Omidyar. The book follows him and then the people who join the company by laying out a largely chronological collection of important milestones, interrupted every now and then with a tale of some quirky eBay member. The author, Adam Cohen, may not speak with the earnest voice of a true believer, but he is largely happy to describe the decisions with devotion and reverence. This shouldn't be surprising because he worked closely with everyone at eBay and even had his own company ID badge and work space in the office building. He obviously spoke often to the core team and the history is filled with their words.

But the book isn't a dump truck filled with happy stories. The book manages to include almost all of the major controversies that I, a casual eBay user and fan, remember. There's a long discussion about the decision to ban guns and plenty of talk about the right way to handle pornography and used underwear. Cohen also interviewed a number of the disenchanted members who developed a love/hate relationship with the marketplace run by one corporation. They keep talking about quitting or protesting or going somewhere else when eBay keeps jacking up the rates, but every time the market dominance of the company keeps pulling them back in.

The later half of the book is largely filled with these controversies, in part because there are only so many ways you can keep repeating details about the company's phenomenal growth. The viral explosion of new listings was the story at the beginning, but after the IPO cemented the success, the management had to wrestle with the bits of evil that would drift into the network.

Most of the coverage of these battles is straight-forward and carried by a flat tone typical of journalistic distance. The analysis and criticism are largely left for the reader to assemble, although the parts aren't hard to find. For instance, we learn early that Omidyar's experience in the 1980's with the fat cat-friendly IPO market inspired him to create a neutral marketplace where all buyers and sellers were equals. He apparently tried to buy into an IPO only to discover that skinny cats didn't get to buy at the issuing price. Back then, Omidyar was a skinny cat.

But when it comes time for eBay's IPO, the people on the company's throne skipped the chance for an eBay-like OpenIPO. Goldman Sachs got the opportunity to pick an opening price for the stock, and the investment bankers managed to find a number that left a lion's share for the usual fat cats.

At the time, Omidyar, the other members of the management team (Jeff Skoll and Meg Whitman) and Benchmark Capital controlled a stunning 98.1% of the stock. They quickly became billionaires. Many of the workers made a few million of that 1.9% divided among the rest, but everyone else was left out. The thousands of people who worked the bulletin boards, and help create a cohesive community ruled by colored stars got nothing. This continues to be a bitter point for many involved with eBay from the beginning. Money weaves a strange path in and out of the narrative. On one hand, marketplaces are all about price discovery. The only reason to list an item on eBay is to get money. On the other, the book gives the impression that it's kind of crass to be into eBay for the money. The eBay folks are supposed to be passionate believers in this community ruled by colored stars. It's all about community, we're told. But I guess if you can't get IPO shares, that's what you have to live with.

The book may be best as a sly bit of exploratory surgery aimed at the strange desires in our body that drive commerce and trade. Some of the vignettes of eBay members are priceless and the stories about the effect of eBay on the market for collectables are not to be missed. Before eBay, the members of the Midwest Sad Irons Collectors spent hours at garage sales and antique stores looking for what many of us might call a rusting hunk of metal. There were even conventions populated by dealers helping people find what they wanted. All of the socializing and chatting intertwined in the weekend swapmeets became history when eBay made it possible for anyone to get what they want by plopping down big bids. There's no need to go to wade through church yards filled with schlock to find the grail of sad iron collectors, the swan-on-swan. Someone else is doing it right now... and all you need to do is grep the database. If you're lucky, there's no reserve!

At moments like these, the essential paradox of eBay becomes clear. On one hand, we're really after the stuff. We want the Pez dispenser, the Hair Bear bunch poster or the Elvis jacket. Do you realize how hard it is to find one just like that?

On the other hand, anyone with a bank account can buy any collectable now. There are dozens of every collectable waiting for buyers on eBay. Purity of heart, steadfast devotion to the goal, or indefatigable energy won't help you find the Grail when it's just a matter of typing the right number into a web form. There's no real scarcity anymore if you've got the right credit card. Which brings the question: if the items aren't really scarce, why would we want them?

The real problem is that eBay strips away the narrative from the objects. Flea markets, classified ads, and garage sales toss in stories for free and this is what the dinner guests, the friends, and the collecting buddies really want. They want to hear about the clueless, the loopy, the obnoxious, the greedy, the windbags, the ditzes, and all of the other characters buying and selling sad irons.

Adam Cohen's history, The Perfect Store, is a crisp, clean, and thorough retelling of what made eBay what it is today. It's a good story and you can't just buy those. Wait, I guess you can -- and the publisher is willing to print as many as the market will bear. Well, there's another paradox: Maybe, if eBay can survive with this many strange, wonderful and bitter stories, it may be the one true thing after all.


Peter Wayner is the author of Translucent Databases , a book commodifying the protection paradox. It describes how to build databases that reveal nothing to the wrong people, but everything to the right people. You can purchase The Perfect Store from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to submit yours, read the book review guidelines, then hit the submission page.

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The Perfect Store: Inside Ebay

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  • So they named their book to sound like "The Perfect Storm." I wonder how many extra copies they're going to sell as a result of people with speech impediments trying to order that 'other' book?

  • OK, so now we worship how ebay works, yet scorn amazon [slashdot.org] for their dotcom business?

    Hrm....
    • Oh, I don't worship eBay.

      It's a fine way to find hard-to-get items not easy to find anywhere else.

      But I would never consider 'a perfect store' one where I have to compete with other customers to drive the prices up.
      • I was assuming they meant "perfect store" from the business perspective. They offer a huge selection of merchandise without having to ever buy or warehouse any of it. Really, they're selling raw commerce itself. Great for them. But definitely not the best deal for the consumer.
        • I disagree that sites selling "commerce" like eBay are "definitely not the best deal for the consumer" for two reasons:

          First: what eBay is selling is a MASSIVE decrease in the transaction costs (including search costs) of the items bought and sold there. Without places like eBay, the transaction costs for many eBay transactions would be prohibitive.

          Second: since buyers don't pay any fees to eBay, I'm not convinced that eBay is taking anything from them. While its true that sellers might raise their reserve prices in anticipation of the transaction fees, I've not seen this in practice. (Most items I bid on are unreserved or have a very low reserve).
          • It's the massive increase in the transaction cost that limits my enthusiasm for eBay. But I am talking about the shipping cost, mostly. I'd like to pick up another cheap 486 laptop off eBay to run NetBSD on for light duty (Python hacking, messing around with X11, etc.) But, while I can easily pick up one for under $30, the daunting $15-25 charge for shipping keeps me away. This is a problem with all web-based and mail order shopping, of course. In the case of eBay it's one of the big issues that keeps it from being the kind of fun I enjoy at swapmeets and hamfests.
            • That is a good point. The eBay transaction costs are much lower for (literally) lightweight hardware, collectibles like sports cards, stamps, and coins, hard-to-find music or DVDs, etc.

              However, assuming that you can purchase a 486 laptop for $30 in the non-virtual world, and that the shipping cost on eBay is $15, then the maximum that anyone ought to bid for the laptop on eBay is $15. Are sellers setting the reserve price of heavy items so high that the reserve + shipping is greater than the hypothetical $30? (I honestly don't know -- I've never purchased anything on eBay that weighed more than a pound).
        • But definitely not the best deal for the consumer.

          I completely disagree. Every item I buy on eBay is never more than I'm willing to pay. If that means I miss out on something, fine because I didn't want to spend too much for it anyway. Of course, you could say that about buying anything, I suppose.

    • OK, so now we worship how ebay works, yet scorn amazon for their dotcom business?

      These types of comments drive me crazy. Has it ever occurred to you that slashdot is not a single organism? That it is not guilty of hypocricy simply because different members of the community have different opinions?

      Why are you so hellbent on having everyone agree? Image what the U.S. would be like if everyone voted for the same political party... oh wait, never mind, we already know what that's like.
      • It was a joke. Jesus, lighten up a bit! Its friday, after all!
      • OK, fine... we at Slashdot are a diverse bunch of people with a diverse set of beliefs and opinions. However, it's often possible to find an opinion or a belief that the majority of slashdot readers agreeon . Example: Microsoft is Evil.

        Now, judging from the comments to a recent article [slashdot.org] posted about Amazon.com, one could surmise that the majority of slashdot readers (or at least a vocal minority), have an antagonistic relationship with said .com.

        Judging from the posts on this article, a lot of Slashdot users also like eBay. Somewhere there's got to be an intersection between these two groups. And by questioning how these people perceive these two companies, we 1) force them to justify their position and 2) learn about why people hold these opinions. I'd say that both of these are good methods for strengthening public debate.

        Again, I don't think we're assuming everyone agrees here, just asking those who do to justify their opinions. Just because everyone can read the post doesn't mean it applies to them.
    • Amazon has never posted a profit, Ebay generates close to $50MM in distributive (but not distributed) earnings per quarter.

      • using the patented Amazon.com accounting rules, they posted a (incredibly small) profit for Q4 of 2001, although they admitted they don't expect to see another for years.

        Most of their statements are "pro-forma" or use other accouting gimmicks that would make Enron blush -- like not including interest paid on debt as an expense.

      • EBay is successful because they have no warehouse, have no stock (merchandise), their customers pay for the shipping. So they have very low overhead and they get a cut on every transaction. Plus much of the sstuff you find on eBay you can't find at the corner store. As long as eBay is popular, they have a license to print money.

        Amazon sells books and video. Any self-respecting town has at least one big-box bookmart like Borders (or Chapters/Indigo here up North). You pay good $$$ shipping cross-country what you can usually buy or special-order down the street. Useful for hard-to-find items, or for shipping gifts, but that's a niche category. They have high overhead and are in competition with local booksellers. Amazon is IMHO more in the pets.com category ("order pet food online! only $20 for shipping!") than in the eBay category.

      • Uh-oh - better tell CNN. The think that Amazon turned a profit [cnn.com]

        And since when do /.ers respect companies that make alot of money?

    • Amazon is scorned by some /. readers because of their ridiculous patent on "one-click shopping." I haven't heard of eBay appplying for any ludicrous patents yet. Amazon, Yahoo, & others have auction sites too, but nowhere near the volume of eBay.

      Besides, the editors of /. all have their own opinions & don't need to agree on much.
      • "Amazon, Yahoo, & others have auction sites too, but nowhere near the volume of eBay."

        Yahoo just stopped theirs. They`re suggesting you use eBay, which i found quite funny. Still, i guess they arent competition now, so why not?
        • Please provide a link. Considering auctions.yahoo.com [yahoo.com] works just fine, and has no mention of this, I think you're making that up.
        • Yahoo just stopped theirs.

          I certainly hope so. Yahoo's auction service is terrible. It's not like ebay is terribly secure or safe to use, but Yahoo doesn't even make a flailing attempt towards security. A buyer can only email the seller if the seller agrees to it. If the buyer thinks the seller has cheated him, the buyer can file a protest (sortof like negative feedback). The catch is, the buyer can only do this twice in his lifetime. :P Utterly rediculous.

          Not to mention the huge number of bugs in the system. When I clicked on the 'file protest' or 'add a comment about this item' buttons, my browser would protest "undefined.warehouse.yahoo.com" not found (backend forgot to fill in hostname). The help link pointed to http:///help/buy (another hostname the backend forgot to fill in). All in all, it just had the feel of something that wasn't finished or fully tested.

  • would involve paypal

    • would involve paypal

      PayPal's not the only payment option...hell, depending on the seller, it might not even be available for a particular item. eBay has its own payment system and there are several others. (Of course, you could also cut a check or buy a money order...but the delay involved in sending them through the mail makes them somewhat less popular than they used to be.)

      FWIW, I've never had any trouble in my dealings with PayPal. Then again, you hear people bitch about IBM Deskstar 75GXPs [news] or Easy CD Creator [news] all the time, and I've never had any trouble with those either (couldn't get ECDC working on WinXP, but v4.05 runs fine on Win2K as long as your drive is old enough...it works with the Lite-On 12x at home, but not the Lite-On 32x at work).

    • This is quite a key point. A perfect store would be one where an individual in one country can trade easily with someone in another country. With E-Bay this is not so. You have to use the wretched PayPal or similar schemes none of which work properly and all skim off more of the proceeeds.
    • eBay doesn't endorse PayPal any more than they endorse sending cash through the mail. PayPal is an external entity that consumers have the choice of using if they wish. Nobody's forcing you to bid on those PayPal auctions, but I've never had a problem with it (despite the fact that half the Slashdot community apparently has).

      Look at ratings people and insist on credit card payments for anything over an amount you are afraid to lose!

      Dan
      - Happily eBaying since 1995.
  • Leaps of faith? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ranulf (182665) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:09AM (#3659657)
    Leaps of faith take many forms, and none were stranger to the world of 1990's than the possibility that people might buy objects they've never touched from people they've never met and send money to addresses they've never seen on the basis of a bunch of colored stars summarizing a community's collective opinion.

    Hmmm. I remember the days before the web became popular and there were so few people on usenet groups that you generally did just trust them.

    I remember sending real cash through the mail to someone in the states and they sent me a tape in return. Never even crossed my mind that anyone on usenet could be dishonest, as I read so many of their postings that I just trusted them.

    I guess replace postings with stars and add lots of red tape and you have eBay. :-)

    • Yes, back in the "old days" I used to buy quite a bit of fairly expensive stuff from rec.audio.marketplace, and other usenet classifieds. Mostly you just trusted people, though the sellers would usually send things COD. It wasn't perfect, but everything was traceable.
    • I remember sending real cash through the mail to someone in the states and they sent me a tape in return. Never even crossed my mind that anyone on usenet could be dishonest, as I read so many of their postings that I just trusted them.

      It's such a never-done-before-thing, that the whole going-to-be-ripped-off thing wasn't at the forefront of peoples minds. My experience started with a few ancient computers, barely worth $10-$20. They weren't available around here and if I lost that amount I could live with it - and with the amazing range of a worldwide second hand market... all those things-you-can't-get-anywhere-else just drag us in, we trust, they trust us, and it builds on from there.

      Sure there are ripoffs around, but the general want of people to trade what they have is big enough that in general - it all comes out positive.

      a grrl & her server [danamania.com]
    • Hmmm. I remember the days before the web became popular and there were so few people on usenet groups that you generally did just trust them.

      I remember sending real cash through the mail to someone in the states and they sent me a tape in return. Never even crossed my mind that anyone on usenet could be dishonest, as I read so many of their postings that I just trusted them.

      I used to do a fair bit of trading through comp.sys.apple2.marketplace and misc.forsale.computers. I'd characterize it as having had about the same risk level as eBay...you were more likely to run into goods damaged in transit than to come across an out-and-out crook. (Not that the crooks didn't exist...tried buying a 16-meg SIMM from someone who ended up fleecing a small group of people. $350 would've been a good price at the time (early '96)...looking back, it was probably too good. Chris Dawson, if you're reading this, you're a punk. :-P)

      • by Anonymous Coward
        Im suprised anyone still remembers that - that score was the down payment on a new truck, btw. Also, I lurked in the group for a long time after that on a different BBS connection and a differnt name.

        The sad thing is I could never pull that off today since the Feds would be all over my ass - oh well, I didn't realize that was 6 years ago.

        I would never have seen your post unless you would have called out Chris Dawson by name
    • Around 1990 or so, I bought a Jean Michele Jarre CD online, had it shipped to someone I didn't know at all, and trusted him to send me a check after he got it in the mail. I wish I could remember details of why exactly that arrangement came to be, but it was someone who sent me email after reading a usenet post of mine.
    • Hmmm. I remember the days before the web became popular and there were so few people on usenet groups that you generally did just trust them.

      Yeah, but then again, some of us had some rather disturbing sigs [google.com] back in the USENET auction days.

      Man I miss my TurboExpress [google.com]:(

    • Yup, I still buy PC games from comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.marketplace [pc.games.marketplace]. The prices are low and the people are generally honest, and the dishonest ones are quickly outed. Plus, let's face it, used PC games generally go for about $15, so there's little incentive for ripoff artists to operate. Usenet people generally have much greater respect for one another than joeblow4421@hotmail.com has for anniesmom44@aol.com.

      One could also check out specialty websites like Game Trading Zone [gametz.com], where users trade games they don't play anymore for ones they want. The system matches the user up with other users that have compatible needs, so a trade can be possibly negotiated. Pretty neat, and the system has enough users on it to make the matching effect worthwhile.

      There are many, many ways to pull dirty tricks on ebay, false feedback from dummy accounts is only one of them. One guy in particular took off with $300,000 [nando.net] in auction profits after establishing a stellar reputation with ebay's feedback system. Ebay's real problem is its success...it's too big. Once a system of any kind gets that big, it begins to be able to support predators, and the sharks come out and start eating people alive. I used to buy things from ebay frequently, but now I only use it as a last resort for otherwise-unfindable items like videos...the non-censored version of "Weird Al" Yankovic's UHF (the comedy channel version SUCKS), and Penn & Teller Get Killed [ebay.com].

  • cool book (Score:5, Funny)

    by tps12 (105590) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:10AM (#3659660) Homepage Journal
    I'm buying my copy used [ebay.com].
    • The parent poster, who joked that he was buying the book used on ebay (and was modded "Funny") actually lead us to an interesting point.

      Currently on sale from the seller "littlebrownandco" are two separate auctions:

      The first is a "One-of-a-kind first edition signed by eBay founders Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll, current CEO Meg Whitman, and author Adam Cohen." and the second is a dutch auction for a copy signed by the author. Auction descriptions state that proceeds go the the "eBay Foundation" (presumably a charity).

      First, do we trust that "littlebrownandco" really is the publisher of the book? Or that the auction proceeds are going to charity? Or that it's authentic. The seller is a new user with zero feedback.

      But I think the more interesting point is that the auctions themselves make the point of the review's article. Before, to get a signed edition of the book, you'd have to wait around at a book signing. (And how hard is it these days to get CEOs to sign books for the hoi polloi?) But here, just plunk down the credit card and it's yours.
  • Of course they don't allow certain things on their site, but if someone buys a telescope for a gun, there are side deals going on for the gun it came on for sure.

    Ebay, of course, brings in people who are addicted to the rush of the auction so they end up paying more than they would at a retail site. However, it offers an expansive selection of new and used items and lets the community police itself. In general it works, and surprisingly it scaled decently.

  • Ebay may dominate in the US and Europe, but its dominance was not inevitable. Ebay Japan is quite pathetic and the online auction market is instead dominated by Yahoo auctions - while Yahoo is stopping its auction service elsewhere.
  • by mekkab (133181) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:14AM (#3659689) Homepage Journal
    but seriously,
    as an infrequent e-bayer (13+ to my name) maybe I missed the whole community aspect.

    but beyond checking out someone's rating (are they crooks? are they auction kooks? Are they attached to some university and selling off old computer components? Did it "fall off a truck"?)
    I always thought the idea of community was more of an extrapolation.

    If I'm trying to find some old analog synthesizer of course I'm gonna check and see some auctions to find what the going rate is. I'll see some users names come up frequently and I'll see who has a passion for this stuff. Chances are we're bent in the same direction. But beyond the congratulatory e-mail and the negotiation of mailing addresses and payment methods is there more to the e-bay community?

    It's stars, stars mean sales, and that's that.
    Or am I just missing out on the richer tapestry of e-bay life that only becomes apparent when you have 100+, or 1000+?
    • But beyond the congratulatory e-mail and the negotiation of mailing addresses and payment methods is there more to the e-bay community

      It's also a type of obsession - one that's not necessarily unhealthy. I think people will flock wherever there are like-minded others, and those who like trading what they're interested in are a big enough group to sustain things. Everyone has a little hobby hidden away they'd love to pursue, but can't because of the lack of 'stuff' in their part of the world. I see eBay as helping that along wonderously.

      Incidentally I'm only a part-time ebayer myself, around +22, but occasionally I just have to buy something cos it's there, it's cheap, and a parcel in the mail is still something to be excited over :D.

      a grrl & her server [danamania.com]
      • AS a victim to some early on auction obsession (involving other peoples money, no less!) I hear you loud and clear.

        And yes, a parcel in the mail sure makes all those bills seem not as bad!

        But this coupled with the comments just below (MRC TAMIYA and the message boards deep within ebay) it all starts to make sense.

        I guess E-bay gives you a certain flexibility- if you want to find that one obscure part for cheap, do your search and once the auction is over you don't come back until next time. And for others, its an obsession! ;)
    • The closest aspect to "community" I saw on eBay was in their messageboards which are buried somewhere on the site. I discovered them wen I was looking for info on being a seller.

      At first glance, the messageboard (at least when I looked) was more of a help board with discussion peppered here and there. However, I've looked closer and looked back a few times and there's definitely a set of regulars who discuss their auctions and whatnot.

      I would imagine if you were into something kind of esoteric, you might run into the same few buyers & sellers during the auctions.

      I think the best way to describe the community -- from what I've seen -- is kind of like the neighborhood coffee shop. For many people, it's just a door they walk in, buy their coffee, and take off. However, if you go much, you'll slowly meet some of the regulars and perhaps befriend the owners. I would imagine that's a fair analogy of how eBay and its community emerges for most people.

      I may be totally wrong, though. Half the auctions I buy through these days seem to be stores having auctions online instead of individuals.
      • I did not know they had forums...
        See that right there is an instant community builder. If you have any kind of traffic some people are bound to stick around. I've seen it around Song fighters [songfight.com], comic fiends [pvponline.com], and since auctions can be a rush I could see people sticking around and chatting it up.

        And yes, my last couple of auctions were stores having auctions on line (or estate auctions). It's funny, the music shop down the road sells some of their stuff cheaper on e-bay... more reason for me to not leave my house!
    • But beyond the congratulatory e-mail and the negotiation of mailing addresses and payment methods is there more to the e-bay community?

      Actually, yes, I think so. I've just started to collect Remote Control Cars from Tamiya, which I used to own as a kid. eBay is a great place to find all this stuff, sometimes 20 years old, but brand new.

      The coolest thing, IMHO though is the people I've met through usually an initial purchase.

      A lot of the time these guys already have a large collection, and will ask if you need more parts. Before you know it you are not only exchanging parts, but also stories. It's quite fun. They all know each other from before I started this, so I would certainly call it a community.

      There's a guy in Japan that's now actually looking for parts for me, and considering the time he spent and the price of the parts, he can't do it just for the money.

      An other guy has a great website, but his provider inserts pop-ups, so I offered to host his stuff for free.

      So I'm basically staying in touch with quite a few of them. This wouldn't have happened pre-eBay, because there would have been no place to start. eBay has made the desire to sell a lot greater, so even for people with nothing to begin with, it's relatively easy to build up a collection quickly. All you need is $$$$ ;)
      • okay, its all becoming clearer now...
        In terms of computer parts (spare scsi drives, old mac os operating systems) since there's high turn-around and volumes out there, much of it with auction houses, I don't see the same camraderie.

        BTW: Oh yeah, I TOTALLY used to race MRC TAMIYA when I was younger!

        Tell me, do they still have those very small, formula-1 look-a-like racers that can't run on a normal street (I think they have neoprene wheels) so you have to build your own tracks?

        Looks like I should be checking out ebay...!
    • I'd like to inform you in this message that your use of decimal is disturbing to geeks. I am repeating this message in slashdot to disturbing decimal posts. I think it likely that you do not know what radices mean, or else you would be using hexadecimal. Read about hexadecimal at intuitor [intuitor.com] and repost your comment using hexadecimal. You may use "0x" as a prefix or "h" as a suffix for the numbers.
      • listen chump, I EAT kernel dumps in hex for breakfast. I have read 0xDEADBEEF hex dumps in the past year!
        (that's a nod to my rs/6000 boys: Yeehaw! Howya doin?) Most of that time was spent listening to my favorite jungle track, "0x5B8D80 ways to die" (aka 6 million ways to die(decimal) for the hex impaired)

        I'd like to inform you that since I'm not accessing any memory locations (where the high order hex digit actually refers to a segment register), and that since I am talking to HUMANS, I will continue to use the commonplace decimal.

        besides, whats the difference between d13 and x13? a measly 6! (still puts you in the ball park) and if the 100 and 1000 were in hex (relating to d256 and d4096) that STILL gets you in the ball park!
        Precision is not a part of my argument, merely factor of scale is. As such, your nit pick is noted yet ignored.

        Good day.

    • I was reading a seller's eBay feedback. They had a few A++s and couple AAAAAA+++++++s. However they had one negative feedback: F+++++++++. To this day, I'm still not sure what that means..

    • My rating is over 100. I mainly use ebay to get jamma (arcade game) boards. The cheapest I got was World Heroes for $5 (shipping included!). The average price is about $40, the price of a console game.

      Without ebay, I wouldn't be able to get all this stuff, no matter how much effort I put into it. But now it is easy to collect wierd stuff like that at good prices.

      Community? No... I can't say I chat with the people etc. Like you, mainly I just 'what is your address/shipping?' and 'I got it safely, here is + feedback. Please return the favor.' Nothing personal/friendly really.

      Still, it is kool in general.
  • by grommet_tdi (584038) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:18AM (#3659716)
    ...including an ass kicking. This "item" can be found here [rr.com].
    • Hmmm.. (Score:3, Funny)

      I wouldn't bid without seeing a picture of the guy. 6 ft and 230 lbs might sound good but then you pay and he's only 5'7 and 150 lbs! And shipping isn't included...

  • I was thinking about this the other day, i dont think i know of any other user based auction sites (uBid isnt user based) that actually have any worth while content. eBay is the only place i know of to go these days. anyone know of any other worth while auction sites?

    yahoo comes to mind, but i havent been too happy with the content in the past.
    • Pre-Ebay there were a number of large online auction sites. One of them that I used to frequent before ebay was even online got absorbed by egghead during the early days of the dotcom mania for some rediculous sum. Since then egghead has discontinued the service.
    • Rosalinda, one of the callers to the NPR interview with Adam Cohen (and evidently one of eBay's better known critics), mentioned sellyouritem.com [sellyouritem.com] and ioffer.com [ioffer.com] as two of the "thousands" of eBay alternatives. I took a look at both and there is some activity going on, although nothing like eBay.

      The way I see it, the problem with any competitors is that anyone who wants to use an alternate site out of principle is probably going to have to settle for a lower price because there is no site that gets the sheer volume of people that eBay gets. Less people=less bids, less bids=lower price.
  • by big_groo (237634) <groovis@ g m a i l . com> on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:23AM (#3659754) Homepage
    Some E-bay items for sale:

    Spammers [ebay.com]
    Goat Sex [ebay.com]
    Windows Boot Disk [ebay.com]
    Hollow Jesus Fish Ring [ebay.com]
    Various Linux [ebay.com]

    You really can buy almost anything on ebay...
  • by tps12 (105590) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:23AM (#3659756) Homepage Journal
    Prompt hyperlinking and friendly service! Content was only a little stupid!!! Would definitely read again!
  • Isn't the thing about ebay - at least it is for me - is not the availability of large numbers of things, but that they are cheap?

    Seventy five pence for a working NIC was a recent purchase of mine.
    • Sometimes. Everything that I've sold on eBay has gone for much more than it's worth. I'd get all depressed about day 5 that I wasn't going to make any money, then the bots kick in and the price doubles or triples.

      How much was postage on that $0.75 NIC?
    • Yeah but 10 Pounds for shipping?
    • If you want to buy things cheap, wait till there is glut of the item.

      For example, when the Harry Potter DVD came out, many were selling for above what I could buy them for at Best Buy. Many people noticed this, and a few days later there were about 30 copies of the Harry Potter DVD on sale, now going for half the price.

      While many buyers to get caught up in the frenzy, sellers do that as well. They see something going for a high price, and all decide at once that they will sell the item as well, which drops the price considerably.
  • who say that they can never find what they are looking for, i ask them if theyve tried ebay. mot of the time the response is no, cause if they would have checked it they would have found what theyre looking for.

    for example, all of you people who support emulation because you "cant find" the hardware bullshit, nearly everything in this 70+ system collection [tripod.com] was found on ebay. im sorry but ebay has revoked the excuse of obscurity!

  • by shoppa (464619) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:36AM (#3659846)
    Which brings the question: if the items aren't really scarce, why would we want them?

    Most "collectibles" go through huge buy-up/sell-off cycles. In the buy-up cycle, everyone sees that everyone else wants the item and therefore decides they need it too. E-bay has, IMHO, greatly accelerated this part of the cycle, for better or for worse, but the cycle has been around forever.

    Just look at the E-bay auction terminology: to "win" an auction is to have bid the most. It turns into a game. Which is what the whole auction-to-the-public industry is based around, in fact. The "pros" (as opposed to the public) know that you don't win by paying the most :-)

    • Actually, I've been able to become much less of a pakrat since eBay came along... I can justify getting rid of stuff now becuase I know (for example) I'll always find some kook who collected all his Amiga Format magazines and is willing to sell me that one issue with a demo of Megalomania in case I ever have the urge to give it another run.
    • I mainly collect arcade games off ebay. Average price ~$40. Do I care about how ebay makes it less rare? Or easier to get? No, that is a GOOD thing because it means I can actually get some arcade boards for less than a few thousand dollars. :P

      Strangely, emulation does significantly affect the price of boards on ebay. Macross boards (a japanese only game) used to cost about $250. Within the month of the preliminary driver for mame, the average price of that board went down to ~$95. The driver isn't even that good, and never has been updated. Yet look at the change. Hmm. Good if you want to buy the board, bad if you want to sell it. :P

  • by jimkski (304659) on Friday June 07, 2002 @11:39AM (#3659863)
    Check out www.npr.org for a stream of talk of the nation's interview with Adam Cohen about his book. An interesting point comes when a caller named Rosalinda calls in and relates the dark side of ebay (which includes rigged auctions and shill bidding rings).
  • What community? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The eBay I'm familliar with is one with lots of mis-labled/described items that are pawned off as other things. Knock-off items abound. Over priced shipping costs. Paypal/bidpay. Crazed buyers that pay more than retail for used goods. and so forth.

    Yes there is also a lot of nice stuff on eBay, it is not a good place for the ill informed(explain to your parents why "they" got ripped off sometime).

    As for community? People are in it for the money as others have pointed out. There is less interaction than you would find at your local drugstore. Once a transaction is done, odds are you won't do business with the individual again. A community involves interaction, not one or two transactions.
  • It's a little cynical, but perhaps part of the reason eBay works isn't trust so much as everyone believes they can spot the ripoffs, cons and shady dealers...

    a grrl & her server [danamania.com]
  • That's the aspect of eBay I'm most curious about.

    Does the book explain it?
    • A bay referes to a section of an auction house or a store. When I used to take inventory in retail stores, they devided the store into bays. Each checker would count the merchandise contained in a single bay. Or maybe it has something to do with Baywatch.
    • It's eBay because it's the 'electronic Bay area auction site.' It's really a SF thing, they like including 'Bay' in the name of things there, like the train system which is called Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART.)
    • Omidyar ran his consulting through a company called "Echo Bay Technology Group." It wasn't named after the Echo Bay in Nevada. The quotes him as saying, "It just sounded cool." That was abbreviated to eBay when he couldn't register EchoBay.com. The first auction site was just one page on the website for this consulting group, but it eventually outstripped everything else.

      (Pages 21-22)
    • From: Pub-Enforcement [enforcement@ebay.com]
      Dear Domain Name Registrant:

      It recently has come to our attention that you have registered a domain
      name that mimics the famous eBay name and trademark.
      As you are likely aware, the coined term "eBay" is one of the most famous
      names on the Internet. eBay owns several registrations for the eBay
      trademark in the United States and internationally. Accordingly, eBay
      enjoys broad trademark rights in its name. For your information, in a
      decision by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a third
      party trademark application to register the trademark "ebaysecurities" was
      denied due to the USPTO recognizing the eBay trademark as a famous
      trademark, and thus entitled to broad protection.
      We are concerned that your domain name infringes and/or dilutes the famous
      eBay trademark. Infringement occurs when a third party's use a company's
      trademark (or a confusingly similar variation thereof) is likely to
      confuse consumers as to the affiliation, sponsorship or endorsement of the
      third party's services. Trademark dilution occurs when a third party's
      use of a variation of a company's trademark is likely to lessen the
      distinctiveness of the company's famous trademark. In this case, your use
      of the suffix "bay" in your domain name is likely to lessen the
      distinctiveness of the famous eBay brand. "eBay" is an arbitrary and
      fanciful trademark; neither "eBay" nor "Bay" describe online trading or
      e-commerce in any way. Therefore, it is likely that you chose your domain
      name to evoke eBay's famous brand.
      We take these matters quite seriously. As you may know, we settled a
      dispute similar to this one against a company using the name
      www.bidbay.com . BidBay has agreed to change its
      domain name, company name, and to pay eBay an undisclosed sum of money.
      Attached for your information is a news account of the settlement.

      More information on trademark law may be found at
      http://www.fplc.edu/tfield/aVoid.htm.
      Federal and state laws, including the Anticybersquatting Consumer
      Protection Act of 1999 ()
      provide for serious penalties (up to $100,000) against persons who,
      without authorization, use, sell, or offer for sale a domain name that
      infringes or dilutes another's trademark. Infringers who have been
      notified of such infringing activity, but do not cease their
      infringements, may also be considered "willful" and could be subject to
      additional money damages and liability for attorney's fees. Having
      received this e-mail, you are on such notice.
      Trademark protection is very important to eBay. In addition to the
      Bidbay.com case, we have filed several successful federal court actions
      against cybersquatters. We have also filed more than six proceedings
      before the United Nation's World Intellectual Property Organization's
      arbitration panel; all cases order the transfer of the domain names at
      issue to eBay.

      While eBay respects your right of expression and your desire to conduct
      business on the World Wide Web, eBay must enforce its own rights in order
      to protect its valuable and famous name. We appreciate that you may have
      registered the above-mentioned domain with the best of intentions and
      without full knowledge of the law in this area. Nonetheless, under the
      circumstances, we must insist that you stop using the domain name, do not
      sell, transfer or offer to sell the domain name to any other person, and
      simply let the domain name registration expire.
      Please confirm by replying to this email that you will comply as
      requested. Thank you for your anticipated cooperation.
      Edith
      eBay Legal Department

      So what was the site? It was a fan-site for A Tale in the Desert [www.ataleinthedesert], called www.egyptbay.com.

      p.s. A tale in the desert is in open beta - check it out - VERY cool.
  • by AtariDatacenter (31657) on Friday June 07, 2002 @12:26PM (#3660147)
    I know that classic arcade game collecting (the big vintage 80's games you find in the arcades) has been greatly affected by eBay. In fact, a great deal of the focus for online collectors IS eBay. Part service, part disservice.

    It is easier to locate various parts that you are looking for to fix up your collection. But now it is also much easier for sellers to scam people, in this area in particular, with white lies.

    White lies, to the seller anyhow. I am sick of all of the people who sell "complete presumed working" PCBs that are missing components. Or say, "TESTED AND WORKING! SEE PICTURES BELOW!" and yet provide a screen capture from MAME. Or even the "tested and working, sold as-is" that you receive and see that there is absolutely no chance that it could have worked.

    What's better, they get away with it. The eBay rating system is hopelessly leaning towards positive feedback. You rate the transaction as a whole, and if you give a NEGATIVE, be prepared for revenge on your OWN feedback. (Personally, I think that the feedback should be broken down into sections, like product quality as described, speed of payment/shipping, etc.)

    One of the most notorious arcade sellers (who I'll call KK1), didn't have a major feedback problem, yet they constantly sold absolute junk with white lies. They got away with it and got away with it, sellings thousands of dollars of merchandise. You couldn't tell it from the eBay rating, but in the USENET newsgroup, they were getting mauled.

    After screwing over a large percentage of the bidders, finally the day came where almost NOBODY was bidding on what were previously very hot items. And that, not the feedback system, is what sent them away.

    eBay may be good for some things, but I think in the case of classic arcade games, it has managed to take most of the market, and yet, screwed over countless buyers in the process. But I'm sure the sellers are rejoicing.
    • I have a rating of over 100, alot of which is from buying arcade stuff. Of all my arcade transactions, only two boards have had problems, and one that had a deceptive auction title.

      Yeah, some people have problems. But there is alot of good stuff to be had. To me, the many great finds outweigh the few lemons (and I am not rich!) I am just happy to get this stuff at all.

  • And its name is Walmart.

    At least, if your measure is by sales. And their info system isn't too shabby either.
  • Does anyone know if there is an auction site that performs more like a real auction?

    The main problem that I have with Ebay is that people can bid one second before the auction closes and get the item. In a real auction, the auctioneer says "Going once... Going twice... gone", to give everyone an opportunity to beat the high bid. Without this, you never have any idea how much the item will sell for, because everyone holds back their bid until the last second, making Ebay, IMHO, worthless.

    Is there a better site out there?
    • www.ubid.com is kinda like this.. it's mostly (or all?) computer stuff, but if a bid is made in the last 10 minutes, the auction time is extended for 10 minutes. If another bid is made, the auction time extends again, until 10 minutes goes by with no bid. It's kinda nerve wracking, if you're the winning bidder, and someone else keeps upping the bid, after the auction was "supposed" to be over.
    • The main problem that I have with Ebay is that people can bid one second before the auction closes and get the item.

      Maximum bid is just that. Put in the most you're willing to pay for an item. If you win, great. If you lose, that's too bad but it went for more than you were willing to spend. I don't understand why people have such a hard time with this concept.

    • No, see it doesn't really work this way.
      What is the most you would pay for said item?
      Now, just bid said maximum price. This way,
      noone can outbid you and if they do, you weren't
      willing to may that much to begin with.
      Sheeesh!!! You can't bid incrementally. That
      very rarely works.
  • Leaps of faith take many forms, and none were stranger to the world of 1990's than the possibility that people might buy objects they've never touched from people they've never met and send money to addresses they've never seen on the basis of a bunch of colored stars summarizing a community's collective opinion.

    Granted the whole auction thing is a leap of faith, but it's not all that much stranger than many things we do. Just a different form.

    • For years folks would call up Sears, tell them a product ID number and a credit card number, and then some time later, somethig willshow up on their door. Never touched, never seen, the whole transaction in "telephonespace" as opposed to cyberspace. "Revolutionary" Amazon didn't create a new business, it just eliminated the printed catalog and telephone operators. Oddly enough, now I see Amazon inserts in my paper occasionally.
    • Buying software, you're going to give somebody some money for a stream of ones and zeroes, which will replace the random stream of zeroes on your hard drive with one (you're hoping) thats less random. If there's a problem, a piece of paper says you didn't buy the software, just the right to use it, so you don't even own it, much less have a right to complain.
    • Money itself, it's just scraps of paper. Printed with faces of guys I never met, cause they're like, dead. The paper is exactly the same (at least in the US) but because this has a number 50 on it, it's worth more than this one. No intrinsic difference, just put a "0" here, and it's worth 10 times more than this other, pretty much equivalent scrap of paper.
      Or maybe you dodn't even have the scraps - I have direct deposit, and then I pay for a lot of junk with my credit card (save on those ATM fees). At direct deposit time, some number called my "checking balance" is increased somewhere, and this other number on this piece of plastic identifies me, and then they subtract the purchase amount from my "credit balance" thingy, and then after a while, I log on to a computer, and send some of the checking balance numbers to my credit balance number.

    Not to poke fun at the reviewer, eBay is interesting, it is a leap of faith and it is one of the few working models on the net, and has been making money since it's inception. Just realize there are leaps of faith all around you. the human mind does well with abstraction, large parts of our daily life revolve around that.

  • Like watching ESPN to get a recap of the car crashes at the Indy 500. This web site is dedicated to bring only the "best" of the auction sites:
  • The real problem is that eBay strips away the narrative from the objects. Flea markets, classified ads, and garage sales toss in stories for free and this is what the dinner guests, the friends, and the collecting buddies really want. They want to hear about the clueless, the loopy, the obnoxious, the greedy, the windbags, the ditzes, and all of the other characters buying and selling sad irons.

    And if people want to, they still will. Ebay doesn't change that.

    About two years ago, we bought a large antique on Ebay (sufficiently large that we went to pick it up, about 400 miles away). We met the people selling it, and got to know them. It turned out that both of them worked at the local (very large) zoo; they kindly provided us with two free passes to the place, along with some stories and ideas on other things to see while we were in town.

    Yes, that's an exception--most EBay purchasers don't have real-life contact with the sellers. But it goes further.

    Later on, I acquired a lot of slightly-damaged technical books. I sold them on Ebay (yes, for a nice profit, and yes, I disclosed their condition). One of the buyers was a newbie to his field, and had some interesting questions about the subject. We continued to email back and forth for quite a while afterwards, and developed a nice rapport. Again, all because, and not in spite of, an Ebay transaction.

    I think Ebay is skewed because a lot of people who buy there buy there because they don't want the additional social aspect. That doesn't prevent those that do from developing a social aspect to the transaction. Looking at the large picture, the author conveniently ignores that fact that social interaction does happen amongst those that want it.

    The point is that you can buy something in an asocial, "strictly-business" manner, whether it's at the local flea market or on Ebay. At the same time, you can be more sociable and friendly to the people you buy from or sell too, whether it's at the local flea market or on Ebay. Community isn't some external substance. It's what you make it.
  • The real problem is that eBay strips away the narrative from the objects. Flea markets, classified ads, and garage sales toss in stories for free and this is what the dinner guests, the friends, and the collecting buddies really want. They want to hear about the clueless, the loopy, the obnoxious, the greedy, the windbags, the ditzes, and all of the other characters buying and selling sad irons.


    Whats stopping someone from putting that in the description of an item? It would make more sense to me to say that most of the online community who shops on eBay wants only the goods, they don't care where it came from (as long as the seller has good feedback.)

All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities. -- Dawkins

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