Distributed Classifieds vs eBay

Recently eBay has been getting beaten up as it does fee restructuring.  It makes me wonder if an old idea is ready to come to life:  Distributed Classifieds.

Why Do We Need Distributed Classifieds?

When you’ve got something to sell, you should be in control. You have the goods, so you chose your marketing, you chose your price, and you chose your guarantees, service, and customer support.  Why should any company – eBay included – dictate to you how much they get?  Shouldn’t it be the other way around, and you tell eBay how much you’re willing to give to them?  After all – you are the seller!

eBay gets away with this because they are a centralized server.  They control everything, but also provide the product base from their sellers and the client base of buyers.  Since they created the market, you pay them to be part of their world.  Unfortunately, you sacrifice a lot of control and pricing when you do this.

Distributed classifieds allow multiple markets to co-exist and put the seller in control of the price.

How Distributed Classifieds could work – Finder’s Fees

With a distributed system, the seller would start out by posting his classified.  Imagine something like this:

Red Bicycle For Sale – $200
2 years old, good condition.
Berkeley, CA
Feb 20, 2008 2:13pm
Finders Fee:  $10

All of this looks pretty standard.  But what is the “Finder’s fee?”  The Finder’s Fee is the seller’s proposed “listing price” to any market.  A market is anyone that helps find a buyer for this product.  eBay, for example, could be a market.  Or, “John’s House of Bicycles” could be a market.  For whoever finds a buyer for this item, the seller is willing to pay $10.

Why is This Good?

In this new world, the seller doesn’t get locked into a single market.  With eBay, once you’ve listed your items you are obligated to sell through eBay even if a higher bidder emerges from another market.  For example, you couldn’t post your item both in the newspaper and also on eBay without losing reputation on eBay.  This is not right – you should be able to sell to the highest bidder under any circumstances.

Search Glues It All Together

One problem facing sellers today is which market to sell the products on.  Choices are numerous, but you want the ones which are most profitable, easiest to use, and have the largest collection of buyers.  Examples of markets you could choose include Craigslist, eBay, your newspaper, a piece of paper on your dorm bulletin board, etc.

But, shouldn’t you post it once, and have the markets find your listing automatically?  Just as search can find web pages, what if each market crawled the web looking for items for sale?  Instead of you going to the market, you simply post your listing, and they find you.  RSS has led the way here – using pingservers, you could post once, ping a few servers to let them know of your new posting, and then a plethora of potential markets would pick up your for-sale item.

Other Details

I’m leaving out lots of details about how reputation systems work, how to handle auctions, how to guarantee payments, and more.  Some of these problems are easy, some are hard.   But I believe they can be solved.

Once solved, the world is a better place:

  – Sellers rejoice in selling to the best customer. 

  – Buyers rejoice in getting lower prices. 

  – Businesses rejoice because there is no central system monopoly (eBay!) for all classifieds.

A distributed eBay would rock.

Microsoft Zimbra

zimbra With the potential acquisition of Yahoo!, Microsoft could also pick up Zimbra, the deft little email company that has picked up a very large fan base in a short few years, but is now owned by Yahoo.  Since Zimbra customers are primarily those that rejected Microsoft Exchange, it’s no surprise that they aren’t very enthusiastic about this turn of events.

The best article I read about this was from Brad Feld, with the press release for the first Zimbra release after the acquisition:

Dear Microsoft Zimbra Customer:

The latest release of Zimbra (Zimbra 6.0) has been released to manufacturing today and will be available within 60 days.  As part of this release, we are renaming Zimbra 6.0 to Microsoft Exchange Server 2010.  The upgrade will be automatically delivered as part of your Zimbra license (sublicensed under the Microsoft Live Enterprise Support Service.)…

Stitching Together Some News….

Since I have no insight into ads or Google’s financial numbers, I can post this.  I post this on my own, and have no idea what my employer thinks…

Last month, Markus Frind reported on his blog that his adsense click-through-rate “declined by 60% in the last 2 months”.  Content providers that make lots of money through pretty liberal placement of fairly useless advertising have been complaining.  It’s no surprise that they are disappointed; who wouldn’t be.

This week, Google’s 10K report says:

“…the main focus of our advertising programs is to provide relevant and useful advertising to our users, reflecting our commitment to constantly improve their overall web experience. As a result, we may continue to take steps to improve the relevance of the ads displayed on our web sites and our Google Network members’ web sites. These steps include removing ads that generate low click-through rates or that send users to irrelevant or otherwise low quality sites and terminating Google Network members whose web sites do not meet our quality requirements. In addition, we may continue to take steps to reduce the number of accidental clicks. These steps could negatively affect our near-term advertising revenues…”

Advertisers seem to be heralding the news (see comments), as you would expect.

Typing Without Training Wheels

When you learn to ride a bike, you start with training wheels.  Over time, you learn to ride without the training wheels, so you take them off. 

If you really want to be a good typist, you ultimately need to get rid of your training wheels – the backspace key.  Sounds absurd, right?  Try it.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can become a better typist.  At home I have a special keyboard driver which allows me to change it.  I mapped my backspace to ‘x’.  But I don’t have that ability here at work….  I’ll have to figure it out somehow.

There is a secondary effect as well.  I find that by not having a backspace option, I think more about what I write before I write it.  I can’t tell if I’ll be a better author or code writer without the backspace key, but you’ll know I’m more deliberate.

I know, you think I’m crazy.  Try it!

Doing Valentine’s Day Right

valentines This year, Valentine’s Day landed on Thursday.  Valentine’s Day is a day where we buy lots of perishable presents – flowers, candy, etc.  So of course, the stores have all the Valentine’s Day items at 50% off even today…  they don’t save until next year.

By celebrating on Friday instead of Thursday, we had the luxury of going out on a weekend night instead of a weekday night.  But I also saved 50% on the gifts.  Totally cheap?  Probably; but I bought twice as much stuff…. I think I’ll do it again next year.  Unfortunately, Feb 14, 2009 is a Saturday.  So I’ll have to come up with a new excuse for waiting an extra day…

Katrina Was a Long Time Ago

Hurricane Katrina struck the US in August 2005.  That’s 2.5 years ago.  Today, FEMA is finally kicking people out of 35,000 trailers from that event.  Occupants of those trailers are mad at FEMA.  They’ve been living in the trailers for 2.5 years while simultaneously claiming that they want to sue as a result of their health problems from living in the trailers.   If they know of the health problems, they should, uh, maybe leave?

This raises several questions.

First, why are these people getting free housing for 2.5 years?  Free housing is not a federal responsibility.  2-3 months should have been the limit for people to find new housing.

Second, why should we provide housing even for temporary relief?  If you provide victims with nothing, they can’t sue.  If you provide them with trailers that they claim are unhealthy, they can sue you for being negligent.  These people are whiners and users.  No matter what you give them, it’s never enough.  Fine, give no federal aid anymore for this type of tragedy.  It’s better than dealing with the ungrateful.

Of course, the lawyers are to blame; the American Bar Association even set up a whole website to help the “victims” sue somebody.  Not sure who to blame?  Ask the ABA!

If the victims had any money, I’m sure a smart lawyer would help me sue the victims.  After all, why did I have to spend billions of tax money just because these people were too dumb to move out of a flood plain which nature clearly wants to cover with water?  Don’t spend money on the levy; this will happen again.