When one of the companies seen as a founder of the ‘web for people’ movement starts to change its stance then it creates a lot of interest, and a lot of comments. After all this time, and building certainly one of the world’s largest community sites, eBay is changing its fees and rules in such a way that there has been an outcry that this now favours businesses, and will dismantle the ‘individual and ‘trust’ model that it pioneered. The moves come direct from the new CEO John Donahue whose vision is to upgrade eBay so it is less of a flea market and more of a shopping mall.
The shift in fees, announced back in February 2008, certainly helps volume sellers at the expense of individuals selling their unwanted items, as they; on one hand lift the eBay cut of the transaction from 5.25% to 7.25%, whilst offering volume discounts of up to 40%; on the other hand they reduce the listing fee by up to 33%. Both moves that favour, and presumably encourage, the business seller, hence my comment is this a game change in the business model?

It’s the new changes in the rules that have been announced to take effect from May 2008 that have really turned up the protests from the ‘individuals’ trading on eBay. So much so there is ‘talk’ of a full blown boycott on the 1st May 2008. However whether or not this will come to anything is debateable as eBay has already countered with a very effective promotion that if anything will boost trade on the planned boycott day!
The famous ‘trust’ model will now only allow a buyer to post comments on service received from the seller and leave the seller unable to post a reply. The whole principle of allowing unknown ‘individuals’ to build trust worthy reputations gets changed by this apparent simple issue. Or put another way it’s no longer interactive between the two parties, and so it will be possible to ‘flame’ an individual who will have no right of reply.
However there is another way of looking at this; these changes are about regulating a huge market that is also a chaotic market where anyone can turn up to sell something, so maybe it’s reached a stage where some things have to change? There is another interesting option for eBay sellers and that’s becoming a ‘registered’ store on eBay. It’s not expensive, and even as far back as 2005 it was a financially worthwhile option that someone had recognised. The whole point about turning yourself into a ‘store’ http://pages.ebay.com/storefronts/start.html is that it answers the challenges from multiple issues.
For ‘individuals’ who are at least regular sellers, if not earning some aspect of their livelihood in this way, it’s cheaper; for eBay it’s easier to manage; for buyers it’s a regularisation of the market. Overall it’s both part of the generic move towards better ‘identification’ of participants online, and towards addressing business models at a time when the first wave of uniqueness may have passed. I suspect it’s all a sign of the times in terms of the development of the online web 2.0 world, and I think it’s probably going to turn out to be the right, even inevitable, move that will occur across the board.
BTW I can’t leave the topic without referring to the ‘widget’ competition that eBay launched last summer. This has moved on to offering widgets to add to your own blog, or web site, and this to me is a further sign of change occurring not only at eBay, but across the online world. It does seem that Widgets are definitely the new ‘in’ feature to boost Web 1.0 content towards being more interactively interesting. Now figure out using a ‘store’ with widgets as a unique way of differentiation and interaction. That’s the next round of change I can see happening on eBay !