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Net auction craze sparks imitators, innovators


I love auctions, both offline and online. I've bought and sold lots of stuff at auctions. From houses to tools to junked copy machines, there's nothing that beats the thrill of a good buy. Auctions are wonderful!

But the world's top online auction house -- eBay.com -- has become a victim of its own popularity.

Recently, a variety of human body parts and at least one baby, along with an investment stake in another Web site were all eBay listings - which attracted numerous bidders, including tens of millions of dollars for a listed human kidney.

Most of the incidents are being treated as hoaxes by eBay. But such incidents only go to point out the huge popularity of online auctions, and some of the growing pains that they're subject to while they enjoy their success.

And don't look now, but there are plenty more entries coming into the online auction field -- and aren't all just eBay clones, either.

One of the more recent -- and unique -- entries into the online auction arena is Goodwill Industries. Goodwill, known for its thrift stores scattered throughout urban and rural areas of Kentucky, the U.S. and the world, went online with its first auction site on August 31.

The new full-featured auction site -- www.shopgoodwill.com -- offers the charity's choicest items at auction to the highest bidder.

Shopgoodwill.com earns the charity the distinction of being the first to go online with its own full-fledge auction site.

Whatever your perception of Goodwill may have been, you can't help but be impressed by the quality of the merchandise already available.

A few of the product categories are a bit sparsely populated right now. But expect that to change quickly, as Goodwill already is planning on expanding its site Nov. 1 to include premium goods from its donation points all around the world.

The revenues gathered from the Goodwill auction site, like those from the many Goodwill thrift shops, go toward job training and placement for people with disabilities.

The benefits are obvious. Not only can you snap up some primo collectibles, gifts or other merchandise at the Goodwill site, you'll know that your money is helping others acquire useful job skills.

Goodwill operates more than 1,700 thrift stores around the world, bringing in nearly $800 million from the sale of donated goods.

And look for more from Shopgoodwill.com -- lots more. The site will also offer its services to other Goodwill shops around the world, so auction buffs will want to check this site often for new auction merchandise.

InfoRocket.com, a new site set to launch this fall, will offer knowledge -- and more precisely, knowledge that will answer your question. Any question.

It's an interesting concept. Buyers will post a question with the amount they're willing to pay to get an answer. Anyone can bid to answer the question, and the bidder must prove they are qualified. If the buyer agrees, they pay for the answer.

If the information is wrong or the deal goes sour, the buyer doesn't have to pay.

Got that?

It may sound a little wacky, but InfoRocket's investors say they will have mechanisms in place for self-policing similar to those used on eBay.

Questioners who give bogus answers can be graded poorly by those who recieve the incorrect information. Collect too many poor grades and a user may wind up banned them participating at the site entirely.

A "high" rating, as with eBay and other auction sites, builds confidence with the buyers that you're legitimate -- which also means buyers are willing to plunk down their money for your goods -- er, knowledge.

What sort of questions can be asked on the InfoRocket site? The field is wide open, its backers say.

My first question for InfoRocket? "How can an aging computer columnist get rich in the online auction business?"

NO-FEE SURFING. A survey commissioned by the AltaVista search engine/portal site shows strong consumer interest and demand for free ad-supported Internet access -- similar to the service it launched in August.

Two out of five consumers surveyed said they would take free, ad-supported Internet access.

Ad-supported Net access means no cost, but users have a rectangular banner ad window on their desktop while they are connected to the Internet - an ad window they cannot close or conceal or move off the desktop.

But even AltaVista's own survey pointed out that more than half found the idea of the always-in-your-face ads "intrusive."

AltaVista's new ad-supported no-cost access service has already signed up 300,000 users, and expects to sign up a total of 1 million within a year.

Is this the future of Internet access?

It depends on who you ask.

Rod Schrock, AltaVista president, said dial-up speed Internet access will probably become free within four years in major markets, especially once high-bandwidth Internet access is rolled out either by the phone companies, cable companies, or both.

"People will only pay for high-bandwidth (high-speed) access," he said.

One additional thing they'll pay for is obvious: Service. If you can't use a free service because of an overflow of busy signals, then it's worth exactly what you paid for it.

To find out more about AltaVista's ad-sponsored service, visit http://microav.com/ on the Web.

WAR ON POVERTY II. The War on Poverty was over. Poverty won, or so I thought until this week.

The U.N, a consortium of pop stars and politicians unveiled a new Web site aimed at enticing the haves to help the have-nots.

And the site will also serve as an information clearinghouse, according to rock artist Bono. "This is meant to be something of a Yellow Pages for aid to those living in poverty," he said.

Three celebrity-studded concerts will be the big fund-raising kickoff for NetAid, and feature stars including George Michael, Jimmy Page, Pete Townsend, Jewel, Puff Daddy and more. The concerts will be broadcast on the Web, the radio and MTV worldwide.

For more information visit the NetAid site at www.netaid.org.

GROWING AND GROWING. The Internet shows no sign of slowing its expanse, according to a study by the Computer Industry Almanac.

By 2005, the study predicts there'll be 717 million Internet users worldwide.

Of that total, North America will contribute 230 million users, with Western Europe and the Asia Pacific region weighing in with 202 and 171 million users respectively.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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