eBay: fall of an icon

I have always been huge fan of eBay. Actually not always. At first I was a fan of Onsale, the first auction site on the net! In fact I bought my first laptop in an auction on onsale.com, in late 1997. Later I bought their stock. Then they merged with egghead.com and then went out of business ages ago... While writing this post, I noticed there's a current website at onsale.com which seems to have nothing to do with the original. So anyway when I heard of eBay, I dismissed them as a copycat. But having a more than casual interest in auctions, inevitably I realized the main difference between onsale and ebay was huge.

Ebay had sellers! It's hard to appreciate today just how revolutionary that was kids.  Let's just say, in addition to the use of auctions, it presaged long-tailsuser-generated content and many other things that we consider fundamental to the Internet today. Even amidst all the dot-com hype, eBay was definitely one of the truly revolutionary things about the Internet. And it was profitable! During the dot-com bust, and for years afterward, eBay shone ever brighter.

But for the last couple of years, I've become convinced that eBay has entered it's John Sculley era. Like Apple in the late 1980s, faced with a new wave of challenges, they have responded with a misguided strategy. I think they are neglecting their strengths and fighting from weakness, which  as we've known since Sun Tsu, is a path to likely defeat.  

Thus, in accordance with my rights and obligations as a blogger that no one reads, I hereby charge eBay Inc. with failure to fulfill it's destiny as an Internet icon, in ways that include but are not limited to:
  1. Website suckage: Every time I've tried to buy or  sell stuff  on ebay in the last couple of years, I've been shocked by how cluttered, messy and unusable the site is. Three years after Ajax became the norm, ebay.com pages look like they are from cgi shell scripts written in 1996. 
  2. Concentration on the fat head instead of the long tail: they changed the fee structure in a way that was widely interpreted as anti-small seller, anti-auction, pro-fixed-price.  They even shockingly removed the ability for sellers to leave feedback on buyers!
  3. New management whose arrival coincides with moves betraying a  profound misunderstanding of their core value as a two-way marketplace.
To make a long story short, short EBAY, long AMZN.

NOTE: This post was first drafted in July 2008 but not posted until December.  Things have changed in the financial markets since but all of the above still applies IMHO.


  1. FYI, there is now a desktop version of ebay:

    not bad at all...

  2. Interesting. Looks nice but is that really the solution? Downloading a client app on each computer is a real pain! Maybe it's worth it for super power-users, but it's solving the opposite problem from the one I meant, namely that it's too cluttered and way more time-consuming for the simple users, not because of the auction, but because of horrible UI.

    Also, my post totally forgot one of their biggest failures. Skype. Have they done anything with it? Nada. Skype is not any better than it was when it was independent. Compare that to the old eBay... Back when they bought Paypal, they really did make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

  3. "EBay Retreats in Web Retailing"
    More clueless bumbling around by Donahoe, the Sculley of Ebay.