Facebook’s Nonstop Yard Sale

By: Sean Mott

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon. You haul the final cardboard box of CDS, DVDs, and old National Geographic magazines to the table you’ve set up in front of your house. You lay out the hand-written price tags and pull up a seat. All around you, people assemble their tables full of memorabilia, trinkets, and junk. It’s a neighborhood yard sale.

You leave your table and wander around the block. You peruse rows and rows of items, grabbing a few rare albums and oddly-shaped alarm clocks. At the end of the day, your table is cleared out and you load your empty shelves with new books, comics, and salt shakers.

The classic neighborhood yard sale was the best way to buy from and sell to your nearby residents. You couldn’t exactly invite yourself into their homes to see what you could purchase. It was a direct market. Facebook’s looking to capture that spirit with its new Marketplace feature. It’s the neighborhood yard sale for the social generation.

Marketplace is a commerce-centric feed. It compiles a list of items for sale in your area. Specifically, it details what people are selling, not stores. The feed is arranged by relevancy to your interests and you can narrow your search with filters. You can also post your own household junk to the feed. On Marketplace, the sale never ends.

Of course, this is not an entirely new feature. There are countless “buy-and-sell” Facebook groups where people can barter, trade, and sell to their hearts’ content. If you’re so inclined, you can post a simple buy/sell request straight to your timeline. Facebook isn’t courting innovation with Marketplace; it’s creating an insulated ecosystem.

Social media is a vast, diverse landscape. The major players (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) have established a quasi-dominance over the field, but they’re far from secure. New distractions pop up every day, littering the playing board, pulling users away from the main brands. People have a wealth of options, which can be a problem for the big companies. They need to hold onto these customers, but due to their largess, they’re unable to truly innovate. They have to maintain their basic core that made them uber-popular with the mainstream public. It’s a tricky balancing act, one that calls for modifications.

The big social brands have to make their platforms attractive. One way to accomplish that is through an “all-in-one” approach. This mindset seeks to make social sites encompass large facets of people’s lives. They offer more features so users stay on longer. You can see this with Google’s “Shop the Look,” which tried to turn the search engine into an online store, or the Buy Button, which various companies employed to keep customers from leaving.

Facebook Marketplace embodies this philosophy. It adds curated commerce to the complex social and business aspects of the platform. It insulates the program, encouraging users to make it their main online destination. Facebook, like so many other social giants, wants to create a closed-off ecosystem.

Certainly, this “everything and the kitchen sink” approach has consumer benefits. It’s convenient and could potentially foster user loyalty. However, it stifles the spontaneity that makes online exploration so exciting. A platform with all the answers may ultimate prove boring. People want variety; will they stick with one outlet, no matter what it offers? Marketplace will be an interesting test case, one that’s already generating controversy. Its success could encourage the growth of other walled-off ecosystems. Its failure would demand another trip to the drawing board.