According to a newly-published New York Magazine profile, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar sounds like a pretty weird dude. The lengthy piece not only documents the billionaire’s latest shenanigans, but also the origins of the world’s largest auction site. Funnily enough, Ebola plays a strange role in that story.
“Originally, the domain eBay.com had nothing to do with auctions — it was a workshop where Omidyar would tinker.” New York‘s Andrew Rice reports. “Its earliest incarnation hosted a web page about Ebola, inspired by the national scare that coincided with the movie Outbreak.”
In The Perfect Store: Inside eBay, author Adam Cohen elaborates, “The site had a photograph of the virus that he had found on the Centres for Disease Control website, and it linked to news stories and data about Ebola and Ebola outbreaks.” The other pages on the original eBay.com domain were apparently pretty mundane. Cohen explains the page about ebola was flanked with two other pages: one for a small biotech company founded by Pam Wesley, Omidyar’s fiancee, and another for the San Francisco Tufts alumni group, of which Wesley was president.
After Omidyar introduced the AuctionWeb feature to eBay, the site began to take off, and a year and half later, its revenues became Omidyar’s main source of income. That’s around the time that people and the press just started calling the auction site eBay, and the eponymous company we know today was really born. At some point between launching the original site and the dropping AuctionWeb from the name, Omidyar removed the ebola page from the site, despite the fact that it brought in traffic.
That much of eBay’s history seems well fact-checked. From there, a whole host of origin stories populate the web. Beware of anyone who tells you that eBay ever stood for Ebola Bay. In truth, the name is a shortened version of the Echo Bay Technology Group, the consulting company that Omidyar set up before starting his website. Of the name, Omidyar told Cohen, “It just sounded cool.” And since EchoBay.com was already taken, eBay.com it was.
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