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Google tests potential online ad listings

Posted by iTech - 2005-10-28

Google confirmed on Tuesday the creation of Google Base, a service that potentially expands the company's reach into online classifieds -- and into the territory of Internet auctioneer eBay and craigslist.
Though the site was quickly taken down, its brief appearance was enough to quickly spread speculation on the Web, where several blogs posted screen shots of the site.

The site invites people to post virtually any kind of data, from traditional classified ads, like help-wanted and cars for sale, to the quirky -- a ``database of protein structures.''

Though details are unclear, Google Base appears to allow sellers to individually hawk items they want to get rid of, mirroring eBay and similar sites. Google Base appears to invite users to upload photos of specific items for sale, also like many classified sites.

Google said only that the company was testing ``a new way for content owners to submit their content to Google,'' spokeswoman Eileen Rodriguez wrote in an e-mail. Google Base, she added, would complement Google's search features.

Rodriguez specifically noted that the service would function like Google's current services ``which do not compete with eBay.''

Others saw a different motive in Google Base's request that people compile and then post their own information.

Instead of scouring the Web for content, ``they become publishers directly,'' said Greg Sterling, a media analyst with the Kelsey Group, who said he trolled the site while it was live.

A move toward online classifieds would be yet another example of Google's growing reach, from WiFi to print media.

And while eBay and newspaper companies require payment to list classifieds, it wouldn't fit the Google pattern if they charged for listings, several analysts said. Google will be able to make money by placing advertising on such a service.

This would be of particular concern to eBay, whose users were upset over an increase in fees earlier this year.

``What Google is providing is tons of traffic,'' said Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester Research. ``They're using this to feed Google Base. But they're also using this to feed the search engine.''

Google would have a long way to go to catch up with eBay's listings. In the past quarter, the company sold $10.8 billion worth of merchandise worldwide. There are about 60 million listings at any time, roughly 5 million of which are put up every day.

EBay spokesman Hani Durzy said the company had no comment on Google Base.

``We haven't seen a product,'' he said. ``As far as we can tell, there's nothing up there right now.''

Craigslist Chief Executive Jim Buckmaster said there was too little information about Google Base to make any definitive statements about it.

``It's not something we worry about,'' Buckmaster said, noting that for the non-profit craigslist, ``we don't really think in terms of competition, given our public service mission and worldview.''

For some, the picture isn't so neutral.

``I certainly view the world from classified color glasses,'' said Craig Donato, chief executive of Oodle, a classified advertising compiler. Google Base ``looked like a system where people could directly post classified listings.

``They're actually getting involved in the publishing of content,'' he said, noting that it would give less incentive to Google's traditional partners to be included in the search engine. ``That might get them in conflict with the people they index.''

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