Tithe of Activity
With increased trust is increased activity, and nowhere is this more obvious than on eBay. eBay far surpassed the many online auction sites that had sprung up around the same time, demonstrating both Metcalfe's Law of networks increasing exponentially with each individual, and the Restaurant Rule, where diners are more likely to enter a busy restaurant than an empty one. eBay Australia recently celebrated its five millionth customer, and pointed out that the average Australian has $1700 worth of unwanted items around the home, meaning eBay sees around $75 of potential fees in every Australian.
I first used eBay 10 years ago, when it was still an eBaby, but had already implemented the great concept of customers reporting on and supporting each other to build trust, which had two inherent difficulties. Paying sellers for their goods required expensive and inconvenient money orders as these were the days when eBay was mostly individuals buying from individuals, so credit facilities were rare. Secondly, Americans didn't seem to realize the US Postal Service delivered items, and kept insisting on using expensive couriers. This made the international purchase of smaller items almost unviable.
The courier requirement remains. Indeed, the most profitable Internet-related businesses must be courier companies, as everything can be bought on the Internet, but only computer based programs and files can be delivered by it.
The purchasing difficulties have largely disappeared as we embrace the Internet as a financial transaction tool. In addition to widespread credit card usage, PayPal is increasingly used as a simple, cheap and secure method to pay for purchased goods, and being owned by eBay hasn't hurt its uptake. This reduction in overall purchase cost has been balanced by most eBay sellers now being businesses, some of whom get friends to bid on items to raise the price — a practice called shill bidding. This used to be common with house auctions, but is now outlawed and very rare. On eBay the practice is only outlawed.
Increased trust in the Internet was only a matter of time, as we have seen with previous communication technologies. In the 1950s and 60s, the newcomer TV news was less trusted than newspapers. When newssheets became widespread in the 18th century, they were initially greeted with scepticism, as was undoubtedly the case when our ancestors originally learned to speak. ("Don't believe this new fangled talking, Og, trust only what you see.")
Where is all this increased trusted activity taking us? According to French researchers in January, the Internet is about to fill up. That's it! No more space — at least not until IPV6 is fully implemented. Internet banking will become like going to a real bank — long queues with Windows closing just as you get to them. You can always enjoy the last page on the Internet — http://www.shibumi.org/eoti.htm — though typical of the Internet, there are over a million such last pages.
I'm confident the Internet will move past the current spate of Trojans, worms, viruses, fear predators and stupid users to become a secure, simple to use international financial network.
Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT satirist and professional speaker specializing in leading edge technologies and scepticism, who views the IT industry not so much as "dot com" as "dot comedy"
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