From 2002 through 2003, the etopps message board was an exciting part of etopps to visit. The quality of the posts and the quality of the barbs were rich. Threads oftentimes stretched more than 10 message-board pages. Since I didn’t have the time to read these long-winded threads at work during my lunch hour, I would print them out and read them during my commute home.
It was an exciting time because we knew etopps was doing something new: selling cards virtually months before they were printed using a stock market distribution system.
Along with this, Cardtarget got started and they were giving users the ability to rate any etopps card with a thumbs up or thumbs down along with space to write a comment. (This was happening years before customer reviews for products became a driving force for ecommerce.)
Before etopps set up its trading post, CT introduced a trading system in which you could pick what cards you wanted a trade from another CT member's trading page via email and you would work it out with a private bid auction and end with transferring the cards to one another's portfolio. Cardtarget succesfully built a website that made its users feel they had more control over their online portfolios and still are successful in doing this today.
In hindsight, Etopps and what Cardtarget did was ahead its time on the internet. And the community that used both sites were the poster-child of what web 2.0 is all about without even knowing it, way before social networking websites such as meetup, myspace or facebook took shape.
The etopps community was also ahead of its time because it (or we) did something transcendental that no one expected: some of its members took the step from interacting online via its message board to getting together in person in Las Vegas. Since then, there have been 5 get-togethers, funded each time by money raised from ticket sales for the get-togethers, and each time demonstrating what can happen when people who like a product enough.
To me, this is web 2.0 at its best and etopps should be proud of being the catalyst for this.
While etopps has shown signs of web 2.0 way before this term was being used, it has somehow missed the boat in what other websites have done that has a community. Rather than adding elements of web 2.0, etopps has either ignored them or has chosen the "if it's not broken, don't fix it" approach to its platform.
What needs to change the most is its message board. As good as Mark has done with etopps as a product, the quality of its community has taken the opposite direction. The quality of the posts have declined exponentially since the days I would print out the biggest threads. It's old news that some people have been banned from the message board and some people have banned themselves voluntarily due to the quality of the posts; threads are deleted, warnings are emailed, old members return with different usernames.
In my opinion, etopps will reach a ceiling (if it hasn’t yet) in its quantity of members who stay around for more than an IPO season not because of the quality of its product but because of the quality of its community. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more members who have stuck around since 2002-04 who have never read the message boards than those who have since that time.
If the message board is not going to be removed due to the decline in the quality of posts, at least it could use an upgrade (or three) to include basic web 2.0 elements.
- Like other message boards, if you signed up to post on the message board, shouldn't there be a new member section to post your newbie questions and introduce yourself?
- Like other message boards, we should be able upgrade our profiles to include an avatar, links to our favorite sites (i.e., music, sports team, football player), and the ability to upload video or the etopps cards you are interested in collecting or trading.
- Like other message boards, a few of its members should be the moderators and it says this in their posts.
- Like other message boards, we should have the ability to private message or "PM" someone if we want to.
- There should be a direct link to one's etopps registration to their username on the message board and remove the ability to have a second or third username on the message board.
Without these elements and only the ability to upload photos and to choose a country that you are from, is it any wonder there is a lack of trust among its members? From the lack of simple tools I listed above, we communicate to one another without transparency. How does etopps and its community become more transparent?
By using web 2.0 and it begins between etopps and its community.
To be continued.