Weekly Web Watch: eBay: world’s most compelling and entertaining flea market

In the spirit of the holidays, I’ve decided to share with you my fantasy PR job. I’m a journalist, but from time to time I’ve wondered, if I was in PR, which Internet company I’d most like to work for. Leaving aside questions of pay, stock options or long-term career prospects, which dot-com would offer the greatest fund of ever-changing material to work with, with the odd crisis thrown in just to keep one’s skills honed?

In the spirit of the holidays, I’ve decided to share with you my fantasy PR job. I’m a journalist, but from time to time I’ve wondered, if I was in PR, which Internet company I’d most like to work for. Leaving aside questions of pay, stock options or long-term career prospects, which dot-com would offer the greatest fund of ever-changing material to work with, with the odd crisis thrown in just to keep one’s skills honed?

In the spirit of the holidays, I’ve decided to share with you my

fantasy PR job. I’m a journalist, but from time to time I’ve wondered,

if I was in PR, which Internet company I’d most like to work for.

Leaving aside questions of pay, stock options or long-term career

prospects, which dot-com would offer the greatest fund of ever-changing

material to work with, with the odd crisis thrown in just to keep one’s

skills honed?



It’s eBay (www.ebay.com). eBay is not just an auction site, or even the

world’s biggest flea market. It is compelling entertainment. For some,

it can be an addiction - and no wonder. A quick browse before writing

this piece turned up the usual diamonds, watches and photos of the

Dallas Cowboys. But there was also a 1991 Mercedes 420 SEL (bidding

started at dollars 1,000 and had reached dollars 12,500), some human

pheromone oil (’As seen on TV, attracts women like magic,’ dollars 11.95

after one bid) and a jacket signed by Michael Jordan (minimum dollars

7,500 but no bids yet). There’s even a ’fully operating Web business,’

Sensualtouches.com (’Your personal guide to LA’s adult entertainers,

strippers, models, escorts ... adult clubs and much, much more’). Sadly,

after 10 days bidding it had only gone from dollars 25 to dollars

510.



eBay can also be sobering, however, just as walking around a flea market

can be a melancholy experience, with the passions, interests and

detritus of people’s lives spread out for everyone to see. You wonder

not just what change of circumstances or personal disaster caused some

owners to put their treasures and junk up for sale, but also what

possessed them to acquire the things in the first place.



If you have an overdeveloped sense of the politically correct or are

easily appalled, then eBay is not the place for you. It’s all there -

the genuine, the tawdry, the deluded, the hoaxes and a fair few

practical jokes. It has become something of an Internet sport to be the

first to spot the weirdest stuff on eBay. Whattheheck.com has a nice

list (with links to the archived pages) of some of the choicer items

that have gone on sale. These include such gems as a half-used tube of

toothpaste, a ’genuine porcupine poop paperweight,’ a pair of Asian

slaves, a bobsled team, an ’Alien Baby Fetus Preserved In Bottle,’ a

’young man’s virginity’ and grandma.



With more than two million items on sale at any time, it shouldn’t come

as any surprise that eBay gets in the news a lot. Sometimes that’s

because it hasn’t been working. One of the most heavily trafficked sites

on the Net, it is no surprise that from time to time eBay has been

swamped under the weight of its own popularity. And then there have been

those auctions - the ones that have got the law enforcement authorities

interested - the notorious human kidney incident, and several attempts

to sell small children. I never saw either myself, but the kidney

reportedly attracted bids of dollars 5.7 million. Appalled eBay staff

naturally pulled those down as soon as they were made aware of them.

After all, there are laws against that sort of thing. PR spokespeople

swung into action to point out yet again that eBay has no way of

screening auctions before they are actually put up on the site. But the

more appalling an auction, of course, the more people come to eBay to

see what all the fuss is about and get hooked.



It’s almost enough to make a loyal employee want to create an

’interesting’ auction or two. I am not suggesting even for a moment that

anyone in eBay’s PR department would ever stoop to such a thing. But

here’s the real reason why I wouldn’t mind working for eBay: I would

never know, until I found myself there, whether I could resist that

temptation.



- Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution magazine.



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