Eventually, it seems, greed will always cause trouble.
I've bought and sold on eBay for nearly a decade and never had what you'd call a bad experience. I've bought collectibles, an iPod, a laptop, clothes - you name it, I've found it on eBay, and I've always been happy with my purchases.
It's also been the perfect venue to unload DVDs I didn't want anymore and my old comic book collection without having to give it away. If you have stuff people want, eBay is sort of like a money machine, but one that will only print a few dollars at a time.
The cornerstone of eBay has been its landmark feedback system. For those who aren't eBayers, the feedback system allows buyers and sellers to rate each other. The better your feedback, the better your reputation, and thus, more people will be comfortable doing business with you.
Happy with your item and got it quickly? You might give the seller a positive response and write something like "Super fast and good quality. Recommend to all. A+."
But wait. Did what you bought turn out to be a piece of junk and it took six months to get there? Then leave the seller a negative and tell everybody.
And it works both ways. Did you sell your Mickey Mantle rookie card to a deadbeat who refused to pay? You could tell the eBay community that, too, so you can warn other people.
And it's all there for you to peruse, sale by sale. You can see exactly what someone sold, who they sold it to, if that person paid in a timely fashion and if they were happy with what they bought. Try going down to Wal-Mart and surveying the last 500 people who bought purple socks to see if they were pleased with their purchase and if Wal-Mart had any trouble cashing their checks. It's that kind of targeted data.
It's precisely because of that system that I've managed to avoid being ripped off on eBay.
And now, like all good things, it's coming to an end.
EBay has announced that later this month it will change its system to make it impossible for a seller to leave negative feedback for a buyer. The reason given is that too many buyers are frightened off by the possibility of retalitory feedback from vindictive sellers.
The real reason, I suspect, is that eBay has seen a lot of its business leave for other auction sites and it wants to entice as many buyers as possible. Whether those buyers are deadbeats or crooks doesn't seem to matter. Otherwise, eBay would let you leave them negative feedback when they cheat you out of your money or merchandise.
EBay has also made a big deal of reducing its insertion fees, the amount it charges to list an item for sale. What eBay has not made a big deal about is the staggering increase it is making to its back-end fees, the money it makes off each auction when an item sells.
Of course, as all corporations do, eBay has spun this announcement as a positive thing, that reducing its front-end fees reduces risk for sellers and taking away negative feedback reduces anxiety for buyers.
What all this really does is create an environment in which more lucrative transactions are possible for eBay at the expense of the people who have helped build it into the granddaddy of Internet auction sites in the first place.
Many in the eBay community are talking about striking the week the changes take place by not doing any business on the site. Others are closing down their businesses and leaving for good. They're using words like "FeeBay" and "GreedBay" on blogs and message boards. Despite the angry reception and negative news reports, eBay is planning to go ahead with the changes.
That's a major irony, of course, because if eBay were a user on its own site, the amount of negative feedback it's received this week would be cause for it to be kicked off.
You'd think eBay would get the hint. Then again, it's just showing what it thinks of negative feedback: not much.
Another irony. Because that is also how much business a lot of folks will be doing on the site from now on if these changes go through.
E-mail Nate McCullough at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Fridays.