eBay – The Perfect Store(y) of network effects - Digital Innovation and Transformation


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Aug 16, 2023

5 min read


eBay – The Perfect Store(y) of network effects - Digital Innovation and Transformation

In the world of e-commerce, eBay stands out as a prime example of the power of network effects. The concept of network effects refers to the idea that the value of a product or service increases as more people use it. eBay's success can be attributed to its ability to harness network effects and create a thriving online marketplace.

One of the key factors that contributed to eBay's success was its first mover advantage. When eBay launched in 1995, there were already other online auction sites in existence. However, eBay was able to establish itself as the dominant player in the market due to the "lock-in" effect it had on a large number of auction bidders and sellers. This advantage allowed eBay to attract more users and build a strong network of buyers and sellers.

Interestingly, eBay also provides a cautionary tale about the importance of first mover advantage. When eBay entered the Japanese market, it faced tough competition from Yahoo! Japan, which had already established a strong presence in the online auction space. Despite its best efforts, eBay was unable to catch up and eventually had to pull the plug on eBay Japan. This serves as a reminder that growing a network of users quickly at the beginning is crucial, as playing catch-up may not be a viable option.

To attract an initial base of users, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar made the strategic decision to offer the service for free for the first five months. This move helped to subsidize user adoption and create a critical mass of users. Omidyar understood that if he wanted to reach the network effect, he couldn't leave it to luck - he had to make it happen himself.

In addition to building a strong network of users, eBay also focused on developing complementary goods and services to increase the overall stickiness of the platform. Examples of this strategy include the acquisition of PayPal, the launch of eBay classifieds, and the integration of StubHub. These complementary goods not only added value to the platform but also attracted new users who may have come in for one of the complements and stayed for the core eBay experience.

Moving on to a different topic, the smartphone has undoubtedly transformed our lives in numerous ways. It has become an integral part of our daily routines, and we rely on it for communication, navigation, entertainment, and more. However, these changes have largely receded from conscious awareness, and we often take the smartphone for granted.

A sociological study conducted in London, Tokyo, and Los Angeles aimed to understand the impact of the smartphone on our lives. The study found that before the advent of the smartphone, people carried a variety of items in their wallets and purses that were necessary for navigating daily challenges. These items included pictures, religious or spiritual totems, snacks, personal hygiene items, keys, identity cards, and money. However, the smartphone has now replaced most of these items, dematerializing our interactions and transactions.

The smartphone has also fundamentally changed the way we interact with the world. It has become our primary tool for navigation, but it also presents challenges. The conventions of interaction with the device are often obscure and inexplicable to many, making it difficult for some to navigate effectively. Additionally, the smartphone tailors its depiction of the environment based on our behavior, presenting each individual user with a different map. This individualization erodes our experience of a shared reality and further isolates us from one another.

Furthermore, the smartphone has given rise to a new kind of subjectivity. We are no longer autonomous individuals but rather interconnected nodes in a global mesh of connections. Our selfhood is intertwined with the smartphone and the networks it connects us to. The smartphone has become a prosthesis grafted onto our bodies, allowing us to be connected to everything and everyone at once.

While the smartphone offers convenience and connectivity, it also raises ethical concerns. Our interactions with the smartphone are constantly monitored and monetized, and we often trade our privacy for convenience without fully understanding the implications. The smartphone has become a tool for manipulation, exploiting our desires for affirmation and altering our behaviors.

As we navigate this new world shaped by the smartphone, it is important to consider the implications of our reliance on technology. We must be aware of the factors that influence our everyday actions and the power dynamics at play. Additionally, we need to question the institutions and power relations that underpin our digital lives and seek to create a more equitable and inclusive future.

In conclusion, both eBay and the smartphone exemplify the power of network effects and the transformative impact of technology. eBay's success can be attributed to its ability to harness network effects and build a strong user base. On the other hand, the smartphone has fundamentally changed the way we interact with the world and each other. As we navigate this digital landscape, it is important to be mindful of the implications and strive for a more inclusive and equitable future.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. If you're launching a new product or service, try to secure a first mover advantage to establish a dominant position in the market. Being the first to market can give you a significant head start and help you build a strong network of users.
  • 2. Focus on growing your network of users as quickly as possible at the beginning. Playing catch-up may not be a viable option, even with an equal product or service. Offer incentives or subsidies to attract an initial base of users and create a critical mass.
  • 3. Consider developing complementary goods or services to increase the stickiness of your platform. By offering additional value to your users, you can attract new users and keep them engaged with your core product or service.


  • "eBay – The Perfect Store(y) of network effects - Digital Innovation and Transformation"
  • "A Sociology of the Smartphone"

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