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Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

eBay, the first major marketplace that revolutionized how people viewed the usefulness of the internet in the 1990s, pioneered both the promise and pitfalls of online platforms, including the dynamics that plague the largest forces on the internet today, argues New York Times reporter John Herrman.

Why it matters: The influence of internet platforms — primarily Google and Facebook — have grown exponentially since eBay's heyday, when only half of U.S. adults used the internet. Regulators and consumers alike are trying to sort out how news, information, data and ads are peddled on these platforms — and how it all impacts competition and general discourse.

  • The first platform: In many ways eBay was the model that inspired today's systems that host the most popular online communications. "It was among the first true megaplatforms — the sort that establishes itself as something like online infrastructure. And it may be, to date, the last one we truly understand," Herrman writes.
  • Then vs. now: eBay's model was straightforward in that it was all about selling products within the norms of traditional commerce; i.e., a clear exchange between a buyer and seller. Today's platforms, however, are multi-sided marketplaces in which the largest party — the users — aren't actually involved in buying or selling. "If eBay is a machine for finding the right price for a pair of shoes, Facebook — behind the veneer of enabling human connection — is a machine for discovering the right price for a pair of eyeballs. Your eyeballs," he writes.
  • Selling human attention: The tech industry at large has favored self-regulation over any sort of official intervention in disputes or other problems on the platform. The problem, as Herrman writes, is that the biggest platforms are trying to address social issues like fake news, censorship and bullying with market-oriented solutions. Selling human attention as a commodity, it turns out, isn't so so black and white.
  • Everything has limits: Back in the day, eBay remade commerce with its auction system and was synonymous with online shopping. But even the company's seemingly unstoppable growth came to an end. Today, he points out, Amazon is the king of e-commerce. The lesson to other major tech platforms (even Amazon, perhaps) is that nothing lasts forever.
  • Its legacy: Other than reshaping online retail, alumni of eBay and PayPal, which eBay bought in 2002, like Elon Musk, Pierre Omidyar and Peter Thiel, are incredibly rich and driving the next potentially revolutionary innovations (think: rockets and under-city tunnels).

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DOJ pressed to enforce Al Jazeera foreign agent ruling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Justice Department is being pressed to enforce its own demand that the U.S. arm of Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera register as a foreign agent.

Why it matters: The launch of Al Jazeera's new right-of-center U.S. media venture, Rightly, has refocused attention on the media company's alleged links to Doha, and DOJ's efforts to crack down on media outlets viewed as foreign interest mouthpieces.

Poll: Immigration is America's most-polarizing issue

Data: The American Aspirations Index/Populace; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Immigration was found to be the most polarizing issue in America based on new polling from Populace.

Why it matters: Americans have surprisingly similar priorities for the U.S., but immigration stands out as one of the few issues with clear partisan differences. It underscores the challenge for advocates and lawmakers hoping to pass immigration reform in the coming weeks amid narrow margins in Congress.

52 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Lawmakers hide behind AG's investigation as Cuomo lingers

A billboard outside Albany, N.Y. Photo: Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is politically wounded but not yet dead, several state lawmakers tell Axios.

The state of play: Most are holding their fire and punting to state Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations. They expect the inquiry to be credible and thorough — and buy Cuomo badly needed breathing room.