Sunday, December 11

Online classifieds, etc.

There's been some movement in the online classifieds space recently with the addition of Google Base last month and Microsoft announcing its entry, currently code-named "Fremont," a few weeks ago. Both of these services are meant to compete with sites like craigslist. And why not? More and more people are using these types of services. In fact, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project, more than 26 million people visited the top 15 classified sites in September 2005--80% more than the same period last year.

Those of you unfamiliar with these person-to-person marketplaces, the easiest way for me to describe them is that they are FREE online versions of the classifieds section of your local newspaper. Craigslist is the most notable. Started in 1995 by Craig Newmark, a former IBMer, craigslist has been successful at rendering newspaper classifieds as unnecessary, if not obsolete. Friends of mine have used the site, for example, to buy and sell furniture and cars. Another rented out his Manhattan apartment for the Christmas season, and one friend even found his first house there.

Google Base was originally positioned as simply a database, into which any sort of information can be uploaded--from apartment or job listings to recipes for your mom's Vietnamese egg rolls. But don't be fooled, many of the fields in the database and forms relate to major classifieds categories: number of bedrooms for apartment listings, or education required for job postings, for example. Nevertheless, it's unclear as to how it will ultimately evolve.

Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be clearly positioning their service as a classifieds play, but with more. They are integrating with their other services like MSN Spaces, MSN Messenger, and MapPoint as well as adding a flavor of social networking to the offering by giving users the option of allowing only friends, family, or co-workers to view ads. It's not available to the public yet (see the landing page here), but keep your eyes peeled for the spring, most likely as part of its initiative and probably renamed Microsoft Live Classifieds.

So, next time you're thinking of buying or selling something, I encourage you to take a look at these sites.

And for those of you looking to just get rid of stuff, you can advertise things you want to give away for free on Freecycle, where nothing, apparently, is too old or damaged or useless to try to unload. Just identify the freecycle group in your area (there are over 3,200 worldwide), join the e-mail list, agree to some rules, and you're good to go.

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