ebay to remove functionality for negative feedback

By on Feb 6, 2008 in online community, social software | 3 comments

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According to BBC News, buyers and sellers on ebay will no longer, from May, be able to leave neutral or negative feedback.

EBay claims that negative comments were slowing down trade and leading to other problems because those given negative feedback often retaliated by with their own negative feedback.

As anyone who has ever – as I have – been given negative feedback unfairly following an ebay transaction knows, there is no effective arbitration process making if almost impossible to get ebay to step in and take some responsibility for resolving the dispute.

So rather than pumping resource into fixing the process, ebay has chosen to make it impossible for users leave anything but positive feedback. It’s a shame. Not only do many ebay users find the feedback helpful in both determining who to enter into transactions with, the threat of negative feedback can be a useful sanction and can often nudge the other party in the trade into paying up or belated posting an item.

I realise that arbitrating in trader disputes is time and resource intensive and have personally wasted many days of my own productivity dealing with problematic message board users and online community members. But it is part of the service that users expect, particularly when, as is the case with ebay, selling items does actually incur a charge. So here’s two ideas that would fix ebay’s arbitration process:

1. Paid intervention: Buyers and sellers on ebay both have an interest in keeping their feedback ratings high and comments positive. Why not offer each party the ability to pay a nominal fee, perhaps £2, for ebay to look into the situation and make a judgement. Once judgement had been made, notes from the "case" could be added to the feedback profiles of those involved. If one party refused to assist the ebay arbitrator, then both parties would see their negative comments removed and a note explaining that there was an offer of arbitration that was refused could be added instead.

2. User arbitration panel: Volunteer buyers and sellers on ebay could arbitrate on ebay’s behalf. This is probably more agreeable, and sustainable, than the above so long as volunteering could be somehow be rewarded with incentives, perhaps reduced selling fees or special account designations that gave them some prestige within ebay.

Regardless of whether either of these ideas would be truly workable once ebay got into the details, switching off the ability for all users to leave negative comments simply because a minority of users misuse the functionality isn’t likely to go down to well with regular buyers and sellers who find the feedback feature a useful tool.

[Note: Correction made to original post – thanks to Niall Cook for pointing out that the BBC article says only sellers will no longer be allowed to give negative or neutral feedback.]