Envisioning a Post-eBay Future

John Battelle points to a post by Brian Dear:

One of eBay’s main selling points for years has been: trust and safety. You’re gonna be fine if you buy or sell on eBay, even if the other person in the transaction is a total stranger halfway across the world. And that is true. Most of the time, things are fine. Fraud happens occasionally, but the vast majority of the time, even big transactions like computer and car sales go smoothy.

But now think 2005. Why might we need eBay less and less?

Consider craigslist with RSS, or, better yet, a notification service tied to RSS or email. “Notify me when a sofa with the following attributes and in the following price range and in the following general geographical area goes on sale.”

And maybe hours or days or weeks or months later, you get that notification, and your dream sofa is for sale, by someone you don’t know, but who lives nearby.

Why do I think it might be nearby? Consider for a moment how much PC/Internet household penetration there is now. And how much high-bandwidth penetration there is now. There’s a much better chance in 2005 that a whole lot of people who live in your own neighborhood or general vicinity will have stuff you want, and you certainly will have stuff they want, and both of you will have ways to find out about each others’ haves and wants. Does eBay’s trust and safety cushion still offer as much value in such a world? If it turns out a neighbor around the corner wants to buy your sofa, would eBay need to be involved in the transaction? If the market shifts locally because there are now enough people nearby to buy stuff you want to sell, or sell you stuff you’ve been thinking of buying, who needs eBay? Why not just use a “smart craigslist” system instead?

And maybe the question should also be, do we even need craigslist in such a world? What happens if you can just post lists on your blog of things you want to sell and things you want to buy, and hang them out there in RSS feeds waiting to be scooped up by Technorati-style bots, who in turn notify people who live within driving (maybe even walking) distance of you? If they can come over, inspect the thing you wanna sell, and then fork over real hard cash, carry the thing out to their car, load it up, and drive away, who needs $50 billion intermediaries anymore?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.