eBay just launched more than 600 micro-social networks on its site called eBay Neighborhoods. Each one is organized around a different product, like coffee, iPhones, Eames furniture, Seinfeld memorabilia, or Ford Mustangs. Content from across eBay—including eBay blogs, guides, reviews, and product search—is pulled into each eBay neighborhood and packaged into widget-like modules. Members can join whatever neighborhoods they like, and add to discussion boards there, post photos, invite friends, and meet other people who share the same consumer obsessions.
Visually, the neighborhood pages are an improvement from the bare-bones utility I normally associate with eBay. The product search, for instance, is a rectangular grid of thumbnail images that enlarge when scrolled over, and reveal product and price information without requiring a click-through to another page.
Each neighborhood acts as a socially-mediated shopping guide that drills down into a very specific product category. eBay members can join as many neighborhoods as they like or even suggest new ones. It’s a smart way to surface content created by eBay shoppers (because I’m not sure how many people are reading those eBay blogs).
After its recent Skype blowup, it’s good to see eBay focusing on what it knows best: shopping.
Still, what these neighborhoods are lacking is access to the outside world. What would really be smart would be if eBay allowed anyone to easily take any module on a neighborhood page—the reviews, the visual product search, the discussions, or the eBay blog posts—and embed them on other Web pages like Facebook, MySpace, or their blogs. People who are really into modern furniture might put that particular product-search module on their blog, for instance, just because it surfaces cool-looking Eames chairs and retro clocks available on eBay Making such widgets available would help draw more traffic into these shopping neighborhoods. And if eBay tied them into its affiliate-fee program that pays for each referral that results in a sale, you’d have these widgets all over the place.