The wisdom of the crowd

Trade Me is embarking on a site makeover — this time a predominantly cosmetic refurbishment of our favourite auction site, with a fresh new skin.  Head over to http://preview.trademe.co.nz to check it out. A word of caution: the preview site is live and linked in to the Trade Me database, so if you place a bid on the preview site you’re actually making a legally binding bid.

In an unusual move, Trade Me has gone public with this preview of the site and invited member feedback via a dedicated section of the Message Boards. Some of the TM team may be regretting that crowdsourcing decision right now — the flames are burning bright on the Boards, with some 143 spleen-venting threads within the topic “New look Trade Me“. The Message Board contributors, not exactly shrinking violets at the best of times, are relishing the opportunity to give feedback — often of a cantankerous nature.

What’s interesting this time round is not the fact that Trade Me is listening — that happens far more often than its critics care to admit, because Trade Me constantly monitors the Message Boards and takes user comments on board — but that the invitation to comment has been extended so widely.

Inevitably, the result is constant carping, with the occasional bouquet.

Will the feedback improve the outcome? Yes it will — since going public, Trade Me has already reassessed some design elements, released a “new, new version” and reported back to the Message Boarders thus:

We’ve released an updated version of the preview site that addresses many small issues, and includes a few bigger changes. Auction descriptions now wrap to the full width of the page, rather than staying in a narrow column on the left. We’ve also heard a lot of feedback regarding the amount of whitespace on larger monitors. Some feel this makes the site appear floating, while some find the white distracting or straining on their eyes. We’ve updated the site design so that the content is framed with a neutral colour, in order to improve readability and to better anchor the page.

But the most important function of this feedback loop: reinforcing the fact that, despite its big-corporate parentage these days, Trade Me remains a community-centred operation. For all the griping that goes on, Trade Me members still consider themselves part of something unique. They can still speak up and someone in Trade Me will listen. No, the community doesn’t always get its way — but it is at least heard.

And that still counts for something pretty special.

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