Tech Industry

Customers aren't keen on eBay-Keen.com deal

The auction giant makes a deal with Keen.com to market the advice site to its members, causing some customers to call the advice service placement questionable.

eBay members aren't so keen on a new service being advertised by the leading auction site.

eBay announced a deal with Keen.com on Tuesday to market the advice site to eBay members. eBay sees the deal as a way for its customers to get instant advice on items and to market their own auction expertise.

But many longtime eBay members--the very people eBay and Keen.com hope to attract to the new service--are balking. In postings on message boards on eBay and AuctionWatch, eBay members are blasting the deal, saying it will draw buyers away from eBay and provide them with questionable advice.

"It is unfortunate that eBay's valuable brand is being tied to a community where anyone can become an overnight 'expert' and charge for their services," one eBay customer wrote. "It is one thing if people are seeking advice for fun, amusement, adult entertainment and the like. It is something else entirely when unqualified persons are going to give paid advice on a topic that involves the livelihood of many."

Keen.com chief executive Karl Jacob says the customers are making much ado about nothing and have a wrong impression of the site. He said the site's feedback system works similarly to eBay's and should help maintain its integrity.

The Keen.com situation comes after eBay agreed to change its new automotive site following a controversy with sellers that brought numerous member complaints. eBay announced Tuesday that it would change eBay Motors to address sellers' concerns.

Keen.com allows anyone to offer advice on everything from pets to romance. The company's Web site connects consumers looking for advice with people who typically charge a fee for their advice services. If the person writes down professional credentials, such as being a registered nurse or a doctor, Keen.com will verify those credentials.

Other customers raised questions about the credibility and ethics of the advice-givers on Keen.com. One Keen.com auction expert, for instance, has used the site to advertise his own auctions on eBay, which many eBay members saw as a conflict of interest and a violation of both eBay's and Keen.com's guidelines.

Jacob said that Keen.com already monitors its site for violations of the membership agreement.

Many eBay members criticized the notion of Keen.com advisers charging for information that eBay customers give freely on the company's message boards.

"How disappointing it is to see that eBay does not endorse the eBay community of experts," one eBay user wrote.

Jacob said that eBay advisers should offer their knowledge on Keen.com.

"It's a great way for both buyers and sellers to make money based on what they know," Jacob said. "In a lot of ways, I think it is the most perfect complement to the world's largest trading community."

Many members also worried that links to Keen.com would be placed directly on item pages, directing buyers away from their sites to experts who would lead customers away from their auctions. But Jacob said the goal is to draw people to auctions and provide another opportunity for auction sellers to make money.

"The last thing that we want is to take people away from auctions on eBay," he said.

eBay bought an equity stake in Keen.com in January as part of a $60 million first-round investment in the company. Benchmark Capital, which backed the leading online auction site, also invested in Keen.com.

eBay and Keen.com declined to discuss the financial details of their three-year marketing agreement.