With over 400 million registered users (2009) and rising.eBay US is clearly the world's largest e-commerce.
The developer Pierre Omidyar started the adventure as a hobby in 1995, ostensibly to help his girlfriend with collecting Pez-dispensers. With a fortune of over $5.5 billion (2009), he figures on the list of the 400 richest americans.
Omidyar remains chairman of the company, but has handed over management to Meg Whitman. According to the prestigious Time magazine, Whitman was last year one of the world's 100 most influential people, and Fortune put her on the list of world's 25 most powerful merchants.
On eBay you can buy everything between heaven and earth. Here you will find antiques, clothing, old cartoons, cell phones, toys, computer equipment, autographs, instruments, cars, boats and aircraft. And everything else. Millions of products sold to the highest bidder.
In writing, for example by a twin-engine private jet (1976 Cessna Citation 500) if you have a few dollars to spare. For $600 you can buy a map of Scandinavia, printed in Amsterdam around the year 1635.
It is just the huge variety and the ability to make a real coup that makes eBay a success. But the temptations are great, so it pays to keep a cool head. In the heat of battle it is easy to bid more than you really intend. A few quick clicks could cost you hundreds of dollars.
Among the millions of users there are of course the occasional thug, and there are plenty of horror stories about people who have been deceived. You do not buy goods from ebay, but directly from other users. Both individuals and businesses offering their goods through the site.
Luckily eBay takes security seriously, and there are many mechanisms to protect users. You will find many good tips and advice for eBay's own help pages. Discussion group "New to eBay Board" (enter via the "Community" on the main menu) is also useful if you have questions.
With a few simple precautions, you are at least as safe on ebay as most other sites. Before you bid on anything you should check the seller's feedback. Avoid sellers who have a lot of negative feedback or no feedback at all.
Most purchases by credit card, either directly to the seller or through the payment service Paypal. Paypal is also owned by eBay.
Learn more about how to Stay Safe on eBay