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eBay to sellers: Tell us more

The online auction giant announces changes to its feedback system that will allow members to get a better sense of the reliability of other buyers and sellers.

    eBay is changing its feedback system.

    The San Jose, Calif.-based online auction company announced on Monday that it will unveil a series of modifications to the system over the next several quarters. The first changes, which the company will unveil over the next several weeks, should help make the feedback system easier to use, said eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove.

    Among the immediate changes: eBay will separate buyer and seller feedback and will provide a link to feedback that a member has left for other buyers and sellers. The company plans to deal with questions of retaliatory feedback and more difficult issues related to the system later this year.

    "These were clearly at the high end of a list of concerns and were ones on which we could develop solid consensus on how to address the issue," Pursglove said.

    In a post on its announcement board, eBay said the changes follow a series of discussions with members about its feedback system.

    "We garner input from our users before making changes to the Feedback Forum and are very careful about instituting changes that impact the feedback system," the company said in its note. "We believe this joint effort will set a good foundation for the success of the Feedback Forum in the future."

    The feedback system allows members to get a sense of the trustworthiness of other members. In addition to providing the written comments of members, eBay assigns a feedback rating based on the number of positive comments a member received minus the number of negative comments. Recently the company honored the first 64 members who reached 10,000 or more feedback points.

    Although the system forms the bedrock for trust and trading at eBay, it is not without its flaws. Some members have complained, for instance, that the system discourages negative comments because members fear receiving negative feedback in return.

    Others have criticized the current system because it doesn't distinguish members who participate in transactions as buyers from members who participate as sellers. Just because people are good buyers on eBay doesn't mean they will be good sellers and vice versa, some have argued.

    More dangerously, some unscrupulous sellers have manipulated the system by leaving positive feedback for themselves through multiple user IDs. After building up their feedback rating--and the trust of other members--these sellers have bilked bidders through fraudulent auctions.

    Late last year, two eBay sellers were indicted for defrauding bidders out of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. At least one of the sellers was suspected of manipulating his feedback through bogus transactions and multiple IDs.

    The changes to the feedback system appear to address some of these concerns.

    As part of the changes, members will be able to update their feedback comments before the recipient can respond. eBay is also considering allowing members to edit their own comments before they are posted and is taking steps to remove unjustified feedback. Currently, members' comments are posted immediately, and eBay generally does not remove them.

    eBay has tinkered with the feedback system before. Last year, the company began to require all feedback messages to be related to transactions on the site. When it made the change, the company revised members' feedback ratings, changing all comments not related to transactions to a neutral rating, which does not affect members' feedback numbers.