Trademe’s big fail

Trademe has turned into a bully and it’s only taken 13 years.

When Trademe started in the late nineties, it was an underdog. Ebay largely ignored New Zealand and so the chance was there for someone to step in. It has taken only a few years for a keen young company to turn into an Internet bully.

Trademe is flexing its muscles as its (hapless) competitors line up for a crack at its lead.  Sam Morgan let his mask slip when labelled one competitor’s efforts a “joke”. Yes he retracted, probably on wiser counsel and added some mitigating weasel words, but his attitude is clear.

Trademe itself, rather than Morgan is showing its dark side now. Trademe claims that its terms of service trump the Internet and its openness.

Why did Trademe succeed? It succeeded, amongst other things by luck, being in the right place at the right time with a borrowed idea, and by the openness of the Internet. Anyone could browse the site and shop. Trademe’s customers added value and data to the site in the form of their feedback on sellers. Who would switch to a new Internet auction site and leave his or her trading history behind?

Not unnaturally, one of the new contenders wants to let people transfer and keep their trading history to prove that they’re not unreliable or dishonest traders.

Trademe now calls in the lawyers and claims that no one may link to this public, individually owned information from outside Trademe’s site.  Someone from Trademe, Craig  Jordan, who has limited understanding of how the Internet has been such a success, threatens new competitor, Geta, with the lawyers if it dares use the Internet the way it was intended. He claims that he will unleash his lawyers on anyone who dares link to Trademe traders’ histories.

Remind me again that the Internet is a series of unconnected web sites that send people between them using links. Trademe can’t claim that its links are sacrosanct and above the Internet principle when it suits. It’s either a part of the Internet or it’s not. If it doesn’t want external links to traders’ histories then it should protect them with a password. It can stop Google from indexing them with a simple text file asking Google’s bot to stay away. That is normal behaviour. Claiming that external links breach its terms of service is not. It’s immature. It’s bullying behaviour. It’s stupid.

If Trademe’s bureaucracy  lacks understanding of how the Internet works then it’s time that its owner, Fairfax, hired managers who do. Critical thinking is needed at Fairfax, rather than sycophantic puff-pieces in its editorial pages masquerading as news.