There's a lot to think about here, and I agree that it's not perfect and improvements are in order. It's a really delicate system, though, so I want to be cautious about the changes.
However, I think speeding up the auctions is pretty likely to happen. I set them at 1, 2, and 3 days back when I had maybe 20 people playing, because we needed time to actually see and bid on the stuff. Shortening that up to 3, 6, 12, and 24 hours would probably be fairly reasonable. I'm not opposed to giving slightly more useful gradations in terminology about how close they are to ending. Precise end times aren't given in order to discourage sniping, which, even if it's not actually harmful, seems to piss a lot of people off.
I asked the early testers about canceling auctions, and it was an almost unanimous no--they feared it would lead to people putting stuff in and pulling it out repeatedly, or waiting until the last minute and then pulling the auction if they didn't like the price they were getting. I think that's why I left in the ability to bid on your own stuff: if you're really desperate you can buy yourself out, but it's going to cost you a little for the mistake. Also note, if you buy yourself out it costs 5% of the final price. Canceling would cost 5% of the listing price. So the current system is much
more expensive for the seller than if we killed the bidding on your own auction and added a cancel button--if things were reversed, I think we'd see even more manipulation by the sellers.
Somewhere in the auction form--or in the manual, I forget--it says exactly what the auction house costs. I really do expect people to read the manual. I can't make them, but if they don't know what's in there, it's not my fault.
While I can see the appeal of a silent auction, there is no way in hell I'm going to track dozens or possibly hundreds or thousands of silent bids (half of them almost guaranteed to be for the minimum price) on an auction, just to redistribute the losing bids at the end. It's an administrative nightmare, and would probably lead to a ridiculous level of overhead. And if the silent auction gave your money back immediately, players would just start at the minimum and keep escalating over and over to get in, again causing unreasonable traffic.
As a direct result, people will either not trade the low end items in AH, or more likely just set up Buy-it-now prices in bulk until they slowly gravitate towards autosell prices and make the entire auction concept redundant - if Buy-It-Now is the foundation of low item trading, why not just have a regular mall for them and get done with it?
The main answer to this is if the auction house is essentially reduced to the mall for low-end items, then "getting it over with" by having a mall is *also* redundant. However, it's a redundancy that would eat up weeks of my time which could be spend doing other, better things. At this stage, I'd rather work on new stuff than duplicate old stuff. For instance, would you rather get a couple of new quests and an improved chat, or a duplicate way of buying cheap items that's essentially identical to the existing one?
I think improved reporting on the timing of the AH would address' skinny's second concern some. I don't know about the "my only choice is to reload the page repeatedly for 24 hours straight" ... sounds like a bit of exaggeration to me. Besides, once prices have a chance to settle down a little, I've got to think more people will use the buy-it-now option for the quick sale (they want their money quickly, too).
As for scrapping it all in favor of a KoL-style mall, I dunno. It's funny, but I've heard the KoL folks on the radio multiple times saying if they were given a choice to do it all over again, one of the first things they'd do is scrap the mall in favor of the auction house, because they think that system works better (referencing World of Warcraft ).
Also just want to note, at this stage of the game I do NOT approve of mallbots.