Newspapers have traditionally thought of themselves as the “marketplace”. I can’t count the number of meetings, focus groups, … in which someone has claimed the marketplace role for the local newspaper.
But as a wise woman once told me, it all depends on marketplace for whom. For the traditional reader of the local newspaper – older, male, middle-income that may be true. The other constituency that continues to turn to the newspaper are small local/regional advertisers, who have interestingly much the same demographic. In addition, they are a cautious bunch. There is generally very little room for error or experimentation. So, the average auto dealer in Little Rock is less likely to buy some new fangled online thingy from an oddly named company in California or Seattle. Too risky. What if it doesn’t get people on the lot for President’s Day?
Nevertheless, classifieds – especially person-to-person classifieds – tend to be a younger persons tool. A function of time and money. Young people have more time to deal with the process and making some money on previously owned goods is a good way to stretch a dollar. Newspapers because of pricing and distribution policies have lost most of this market to other print products like The Recycler in LA or some of the alternative press. But for the most part, these classifieds always existed outside traditional media channels. They were shared with friends in emails, stapled to cork boards in laundromats, or local grocery stores. Ever looked at the cork board at Rainbow Foods in SF. I can stand there and read them for hours. Now the interesting thing I have begun to notice is that people will print out their Craigslist posting and tack it up. This is where CraigsList came from not shifted from newspapers. Craig brought all of this casual offline, friend to friend, “community classifieds” business online. Once those listings formed a community, then they began to draw away the traditional business of the newspapers.
If newspapers are classifieds 1.0 and their online executions are classifieds 1.5, then CraigsList would be 2.0. But, we are rapidly moving into a new version in which the internet will be the marketplace, the media, and advertisers (institutions and individuals) will control the listing. There seems to be two intermediary roles to play. One facilitating the listing that means creating a set of standards that allow the listing to be found, categorized, and then displayed…. All of the pieces of this exist in the blog world. It seems a natural that at least the person-to-person listings will migrate to the blog world where individuals, mostly younger people, are increasingly using their blog or social network space as a dashboard for their interaction for the web. Kind a breadcrumb catcher for all their reviews, communications, postings, photos, clippings and -yes- classifieds/commerce. [More on this in a later post.] The second would be services to search these listings, categorize them and display or distribute them to consumer. Edgeio may be the first to really build toward both aspects of classifieds 3.0. Nothing other than the blog and this post from Business Week to evaluate where they may actually go. Sounds like they have a beta scheduled for launch later this month.
So what about GBase, Oodle , SimplyHired and the rest? Well, they are still not the real deal. SimplyHired and Oodle are aggregators of web 1.5 online classified sites. In a given market they index the online listings sites where advertisers go to post their ads. But, with some few exceptions, they don’t go directly to the job boards of local employers. So, they are a useful layer for the consumer, but don’t really change the game. And I am not really that sure how much value they bring to the consumer. In any one market, there are only a handful of sites to index and crawl. Maybe a dozen and some are frankly so small or specialized as to be only relevant to particular searches. So, I can go to SimplyHired or I can go to CareerBuilder and Monster. If I am looking for a job – I am probably doing both anyway.
Now GBase. Why Google can’t quite get their arms around Web 2.0 is beyond me. I mean, they could give me tools to post my listing wherever I want (Orkut, Blogger, Typepad, WordPress, Tribe …) and then tag it, so that anyone can index and display for the consumer. I guess the problem for Google in this equation is the “anyone”. So no, I have to send my listings/feeds to GBase. They have the talent to do this. I fear that they already have enough of a legacy business in search and an audience on Wall Street that has huge expectations and is not too forgiving. Not always the best place to be , if you are trying to stay in front of the innovation curve. Kosmix, anyone?
Now, if P2P classifieds move onto people’s blogs and sites like Edgeio provide consumers a way to search across the listings. What does this mean for more institutional listings like recruitment, auto and real estate? Well, if anything I expect the same rules to apply. Tools will develop (are being developed) to allow businesses to post to the web on their own sites. And search engines will crawl, categorize and display. This could be done in a variety of ways, like the TLD “dot jobs ” or perhaps some future “dot auto” or “dot re”. These are huge verticals and there is a persistent need for these searches and the sub categories of search are pretty standard. Auto = make, model, year, color, price, location….
These changes will occur, but the timeframes will be longer than we expect. In part, because of the inertia in local advertisers (employers, auto dealers, real estate agents). Big guys will take advantage of the changes, maybe moving some spending from existing media, to new methods. Smaller guys will need it to be fool-proof, simple and cheap. So, whether Edgeio starts with “classifieds from the edge” and moves to the center or some new player steps in remains to be seen. Google? Yahoo? Someone in the blog space – Pluck or Technorati? The big opportunity will take some time and some pretty good sales/marketing efforts to pay off. How ever it plays out, it will be fun to watch.