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eBay revamps site, hires Weird Al Yankovic

Better protection - and daft lyrics to boot

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eBay has used its Annual eBay Live! event, the day after its corporate agm, to enthuse its users and outline future plans for the online auction house.

In that wonderfully American way that people get so excited about having met through a financial transaction*, 10,000+ eBay fanatics listened intently in Orlando as CEO Meg Whitman explained what changes/improvements they were going to make to the site.

Top of the list, unsurprisingly, was cutting down on fraud on eBay. A buyer protection programme that sees the $200 insurance currently offered on goods that failed to arrive or were "substantially different" than what was advertised will be increased to $500 among those buyers that have proven trustworthiness. In eBay's case, this is the bulk of the business.

Fraud inside eBay, such as stealing details etc, and spam, will be tackled by releasing only people's IDs. It will also remove the risk of people taking goods and not paying for them by restricting the number of bids that people who have a track record of not paying are allowed to have. This sounds like a pointless idea and eBay clearly recognised that, promising that it is "experimenting" with adding an immediate-payment option done through PayPal (the online payment company eBay bought almost exactly a year ago for $1.5bn).

The problem with this of course is that if instant-payment is there, every seller will use it and the whole ethos of eBay will shrivel up. Presumably this is where the experimenting comes in. It will also introduce an Intel-style advertising rebate for its customers that stick eBay ads on their sites, so giving it a wider audience, respectability and [spit!] brand awareness. Then there was talk of tying PayPal into the site a bit more to give an easier payment system - while skirting around the Amazon one-click buy patent of course.

What is quite impressive though is the stats about what traffic the eBay site deals with. It was up and working 99.9 per cent of the time and over 2002, peak page views were up 84 per cent (is that right? Sounds a touch high).

The biggest day in 2002 saw 626 million page views, 79 million searches, and 7.7 million bids. As Whitman evangelised: "At peak periods, eBay's technology infrastructure handles 4.5 gigabits a second of dynamic, real-time data - the equivalent of transmitting all the information in the Library of Congress every six hours." No matter what way you look at it, that is impressive.

But then she kind of lets herself down by going what Yanks call "cornball". "Every eBay employee gets up in the morning thinking about how to make the site better for you to use. In every decision we make, in just about every part of the company, we try to take into account the impact on you, the user," she told the audience, who presumably don't have a life either.

But then the big extravaganza: out came US celebrity and comedy musician Weird Al Yankovic who performed his eBay song to wild whooping. eBay chose to highlight the lyrics: "Tell me why I need another pet rock, they say they love me on eBay" in its press release.

We'd prefer to go with: "Junk keeps arriving in the mail, From that worldwide garage sale, Dukes Of Hazard ashtray, Hey! A Dukes Of Hazard ashtray, Oh yeah... I bought it on eBay."

Incidentally, at the agm the day before, eBay decided to increase its stock option pool by 56 per cent - against the wishes of a major pension fund investor. You can read into this what you like but if these eBay employees that only think of us find their salary increases come in the form of new stock options, they'd do better to start thinking of themselves.

* - As an example of how this doesn't cross the Atlantic, an email to me today from eBay read: "You didn't think we'd forget, did you? Congratulations! It's now been a year since you first started trading on eBay.co.uk." They'd remembered but I'd forgot - if "forgot" is the right word. Rather than make me love eBay, this makes me want to remove my email details from their system. ®

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