10 years ago, the idea of ebay would have sounded absurd to most people. Who in his right mind would buy something from a random stranger over the internet? Anonymity, one of the internet’s biggest strengths, is also one of its biggest weaknesses. Ebay has successfully harnessed the power of the individual on the web while constraining the uncertainty his anonymity brings. User-controlled feedback has created an online community where anonymous pseudonyms are held accountable for their actions, allowing for a sense of certainty and creating the trust necessary to spend money online. Paypal also plays an important part in this process. It acts as a third party to hold the buyer’s money as the seller ships the auctioned item and completes the payment when the item arrives. This means that, even if there is fraud, the buyer is insured.
The way I see it, EBay’s greatest success is the seamless integration it has with Paypal. It’s so easy that senior citizens, who are usually either apathetic to or scared of the internet, can buy and sell online. (Getting them used to the idea of interacting with an anonymous person online is a different story, though. Some perceptions just take some time to change!)