TR: You have some peers not too far away from this campus that are doing similar things. With S3, Amazon is encouraging people to basically offload all their database operations to Amazon’s excess capacity (see “The Internet Is Your Next Hard Drive”). And you’ve got Google persuading people to upload their entire portfolio or inventory into Google Base.
EB: But all of those are very limited services. It’s all about, “Give us your data.” And from research labs, I can tell you, data is power. So of course it makes sense for companies to do that. But what I want to do is bring the traffic to the developer. I don’t expect anybody to do anything for free. When you list something with eBay, it’s because you want to make money off that transaction. We have people who make their livings doing that. What I want to do is expand the types of people who can do that. I want not only people who have an inventory of products, but also people who have an inventory of ideas, education, and ability.
TR: And these new applications you want these people to build – do they have to have something to do with selling?
EB: I think everybody has their purpose in life, and eBay’s purpose is to pioneer new communities built on commerce. Commerce is behind almost every aspect of modern life. I don’t see how that limits us in any way.
TR: You said that you guys brought yourselves into existence by proving that you could rework the search mechanism on the site. I’m wondering whether at the same time there might have been a sense that eBay was reaching a certain size or a certain revenue level where it really ought to have an R&D operation.
EB: I’m sure you’ve heard about the “train seat” model at eBay. The train model is that we completely re-release the entire eBay site every two weeks. We just launched Train 472 on Monday, so everybody who had seats on that train saw their project go live on the site this week. That gives us predictability – we know [when trains will arrive] a year ahead of time. The problem then becomes that our engineers are booked a year out, and there’s not much wiggle room. So we’ve always had in the back of our minds that you need to have an extra set of resources – people who are thinking about not just the business ideas, but how we can take new technologies and create new ideas that we can then feed back to the business.
TR: So the folks in the research lab aren’t assigned to train seats.
TR: With all of the new features you’re building, you’re making it possible for people to spend a lot more time on eBay.
EB: Well, I’m hoping that by spending more time on eBay, they’ll have a better life as a result.
TR: Or they’ll have more stuff. One or the other.
EB: Some people feel complete once they’ve got that complete collection. I want to make them feel complete.