Brands

Insane Story of the Day: eBay Started as an Ebola Site

After spending way too much time playing with the Way Back Machine, Fortune‘s Erin Griffith came away with an amazing scoop: eBay started as a website about Ebola.

In 1995, eBay.com was just another quirky domain on the young web. As Griffith reports, entrepreneur Pierre Omidyar only bought it when his first choice, EchoBay.com, wasn’t available. This iteration of eBay had no auctions, and the content lacked a clear focus: One page concentrated on a biotech startup, while another was dedicated to a Tufts University alumni group. But, most notably, there was a section called Ebola Information because of Omidyar’s strange fascination with the disease.

Griffith cites a passage from Adam Cohen’s book, The Perfect Store: Inside eBay:

“The site had a photograph of the virus that he had found on the Centers for Disease Control website, and it linked to news stories and data about Ebola and Ebola outbreaks. … If [users] typed in only eBay.com, they would have to wade through three home pages, including Omidyar’s homage to a loathsome disease.”

When eBay’s auction site became one of the first true success stories of the web 1.0 in 1997, Ebola Information was scrapped.

Also, I’m going to be honest: At first, I read the headline of Griffith’s piece as “eBay started a website about Ebola,” and got a little too excited to write a scathing criticism of such a distasteful and opportunistic content strategy. Fortunately, that was a false alarm. But just in case any brands are thinking about starting a site related to Ebola, don’t do it unless you’re Doctors Without Borders or another health organization involved in the fight against the deadly disease.

No one wants to read Ebola Weekly, presented by Taco Bell in partnership with Chrysler.

Image by LM Otero
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