EBay Explores Human Nature, Likes What It Sees

    June 13, 2007
    WebProNews Staff

Okay all you pessimists and realists, you’re not going to like this, but that won’t be all that surprising. EBay chairman and founder Pierre Omidyar says people are basically good, and that basic goodness is what made eBay what it is today.

EBay Explores Human Nature, Likes What It Sees
EBay Explores Human Nature, Likes What It Sees

Omidyar, speaking alongside John Donohoe, president of eBay Marketplaces, and Bob Kagle of Benchmark Capital, at the opening "Coffee Talk" segment of the eBay Developers Conference in Boston, pulled out all of the Pollyanna stops.

I know what you’re thinking, but save the references to Kool-Aid, flowers, handholding and Kumbaya for the comments section. Omidyar’s message of hope and eBay was a nice change of pace from a world enamored with the descent of celebrity heiresses and bombshell drama.

Omidyar said the driving mantra behind eBay, back when it was still a startup in 1995, was "people are basically good," and the continuation of that idea with an emphasis on trust is what will keep eBay afloat in the future.

Like any good collective myth creator (we apply "collective myth" in the positive sense rather than the pejorative, if you pessimists think otherwise – hegemony has its own noble function), Omidyar focused on success stories.

Our sources at the conference readily relay Pierre’s tale of a woman pulling herself out of public assistance because of the opportunity a service like eBay’s offers, where the barriers to doing business are effectively laid flat.

His conclusion, then, is split into two lessons eBay has presented mankind:

Lesson 1: Business is a force for good (Again, hold your comments, he said "business" and not "corporatism," as might be your first objection).

Lesson 2: Given the right environment, people can discover power within themselves to make good things happen.

Mmmm. Excuse me a moment as I rub that into my skin and like it, hope beyond reason, and reconsider my thoughts on altruism and human nature, and ponder whether or not turning 30 has really jaded me forever. Maybe I just need more coffee.

Kagle interjects to back up Pierre, reiterating the idea that people can simultaneously "do good and be successful," an idea that inspired eBay from its roots, and that the people on eBay genuinely want to help others.

Barring a few bad apples, we can imagine, like fathers sharing their parenting skills via Nintendo boxes of rocks, and opportunists selling locks of Britney’s hair. To eBay’s credit, the team weeds these out with good-faith vigor – though people are basically good, at least born as a good, clean slate, they are often polluted over time, like good ideas, and good websites. Cleaning and showering are ongoing human crises.

Nonetheless, Pierre believes in this innate goodness – a nice rebuttal to Original Sin – and believes eBay is "just beginning to impact the world, if you believe in people and trust each other."

That’s a tall order for the Aristocracy, Pierre, but so was the idea that housewives, paupers, the physically afflicted – well, anybody – could run a proper online business with eBay. And that’s working out so far…

Bob interjects again, says, eBay "brings the world together, and over time…will impact communities, cities, and even countries. And that will change the world."

Pierre was selling the idea better, but that’s okay. "Third parties," says Pierre, "consumers, developers, are the ones that will lead."

Scoff all you want, he could be right – has been so far – and at the least, it’s a nice battle cry.