Margaret "Meg" Whitman, the longtime chief executive of eBay, is fond of calling the auction giant the first social network. In some ways, it's true. The 12-year-old company was among the first to let users generate content. After all, most of the items for sale are supplied by members of eBay's community. They provide the photos and descriptions of items that make up eBay's auction pages. It's their content that attracts eBay's global audience of 233 million users.

That doesn't mean eBay is a pioneer in all areas. The company is just catching up to some of the Web's more recent innovations. At eBay Live!the company's annual conference/revival for eBay buyers and sellers×—Whitman & Co. announced a plan to redesign the site to make it more multimedia-centric, relying on photos and videos of products. Whitman and her managers also described efforts to make the site's auction feature available on social network pages, blogs, as well as Web sites and stores outside of eBay via widgetsthose increasingly popular small programs that enable users to easily share content and incorporate it into their own Web sites.

As a result of these and other recent efforts, eBay has morphed from an online auctioneer and shopping site into what Whitman calls a "social commerce" platform. BusinessWeek reporter Catherine Holahan caught up with Whitman at eBay Live!, held this year in Boston, to discuss eBay's new identity, how eBay and the Web have changed, and what Whitman expects from the company in the future. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

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