By Charlene Li
The news is out (thanks to the WSJ – subscription required) that Google Base, the long-anticipated Google classifieds and listings service, made a fleeting debut. The site (base.google.com) is now down, but there are a few screenshots floating around (see below for links). Here’s what the original page had in terms of text before it was taken down:
“Post your items on Google.
Google Base is Google’s database into which you can add all types of content. We’ll host your content and make it searchable online for free.
Examples of items you can find in Google Base:
• Description of your party planning service
• Articles on current events from your website
• Listing of your used car for sale
• Database of protein structures
You can describe any item you post with attributes, which will help people find it when they search Google Base. In fact, based on the relevance of your items, they may also be included in the main Google search index and other Google products like Froogle and Google Local.”
“Post your items on Google.
The WSJ’s take is that this is Google’s assault on eBay. Others will be sure to look at it as a way to link classifieds and the anticipated Google Wallet. But I think it’s actually much, much bigger. Google’s main search index relies on spiders to crawl the Web and the much bally-hooed Page Rank system to understand relevancy. Neither work well in a database environment where pages are generated dynamically and linked pages don’t exist. I believe this is Google’s way to not only build a lucrative listings business but also to flesh out other areas like Froogle and Local with deep content that’s otherwise inaccessible or just plain doesn’t exist.
But what’s interesting to me is that rather than scrape existing databases, Google is going to encourage people, businesses, and organizations to submit their listings directly to Google. This avoids any potential “cease and desist” orders like the one that Oodle.com recently received from Craigslist.org for scrapping its listings. By actually owning a structured database that’s clean from the start (no need for de-duping scripts like those employed by Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com), Google can focus on what it does best – getting loads of consumers and businesses to use its services. Just a point of comparison – Craigslist.org had 4.8 million visitors in the US in September, a drop in the bucket compared to the kind of traffic that Google can drive.
What are the implications? First, it will be a while before Google Base becomes a category killer, but it will exert pressure in much the same way that online job boards like Monster.com have been squeezing print recruitment classifieds for the past 11 years. The likes of Monster, CareerBuilder, and HotJobs didn’t have to worry much about start-ups like Indeed.com and SimplyHired, but when Google comes along and integrates database listings into general search results, then job boards should start worrying. This is because job-related search terms are a growing part of search revenues, with savvy company recruiters already advertising on those keywords (do a search on “technology jobs” and see who’s advertising).
Second, I would expect at some point for Google to tie self-publishing (e.g. Blogger), Google Groups, and Google Base together. For example, I could publish to my blog in a structured format (yes, this is akin to structured blogging), add some tags and have it appear on both my blog and also in Google Base where it can be populated throughout Google. So if I’m selling my car, I can choose a Google Base template and voila, I’m published throughout the Google Network.