Getting your short, sharp message out to the masses is the name of the game in the blogosphere, so it's not suprprising that advertising - and specifically classfied advertising - looks set to catch the new wave, says Jonathan Weber
Classified advertising is one of those things that obviously works better online than in print: searching with keywords, after all, is a lot easier and more efficient than scanning columns of tiny print. In big classified categories like jobs and cars, the migration from print to online has been underway for nearly a decade now. In other areas, notably apartment listings, the unlikely upstart Craigslist has set off panic among newspaper publishers all across America.
But the next step for online classifieds would be the elimination of centralized classified listings services altogether. In the Web 2.0 world of classifieds, one could post an advertisement just about anywhere online, and if the ad had the proper tags – a big if, and more on that in second- then anyone looking for that type of ad would be able to find it. No more hopping around to different sites (or newspapers) looking at listings. No need to post your ad in multiple places. The web itself would be the marketplace, a clearing house where the entire universe of buyers and sellers could find one another with just a few keystrokes.
We're a long way from that still, but the appeal of the concept explains the extraordinary buzz that's erupted in the blogosphere around a start-up called Edgeio. "Listings from the edge" – as opposed to the central market – is the tagline, and though the service isn't even launched yet, it's all the rage among blogerati. That's partly because the founders, Michael Arrington and Keith Teare, themselves have a very popular blog called TechCrunch. It's also because Edgeio in its first incarnation appears to be mainly about bloggers posting classifieds for the service to pick up (bloggers tend to like things that serve bloggers). But it's mainly because the concept behind Edgeio could potentially represent a real leap in the way information is organised, distributed, and found.
The initial concept, according to the many who have now had a sneak peek, is straightforward enough: you tag a post on your blog or website as a listing, add further tags to describe the listing, and Edegio will scoop it up and categorize appropriately in an index. But Edgeio itself is not exactly a central market; you'll still be able to control your own ad within Edgeio. While new web classified services including Oodle and Indeed rely on "scraping" and aggregating listings from a wide range of classified sites, Edgeio goes further in creating a new type of classified market.
There are lots of things that will prevent something like this from going mainstream for quite some time, even assuming it works as promised. First, Edgeio and things like it will require some general, web-wide agreement on tagging schemes. We all have to call things by the same names, or the searching will quickly get confused.
Equally important, things that require tagging require, at least for now, no small amount of work. Indeed, one of the larger potential traps for many a Web 2.0 entrepreneur is to assume that the behavior of early adopters is in some way representative. Many bloggers spend their days writing, and then tagging their writings and doing other things to assure that the world can find their writings. Tagging, in general, makes it possible to share things with people of similar interests – thus the incredible success of the photo-sharing site Flickr. It's a fun thing to do if you've got the time and interest.
But do people outside of the blogosphere really want to undertake the effort that this requires? One of the strengths of Craigslist, to take one example, is its utter simplicity. Type a few lines, pick categories from a menu, and you're done – not much thought required. Structuring data – and now we could be talking about anything from classifieds to news reports – takes work, and at the moment it even takes a little bit of sophistication. New tools will surely make it easier over time, and to the extent people see the benefits they will get involved. Traditionally, though, this is a bigger leap than early adopters tend to think.
I have no idea whether Edgeio will succeed, but Teare and Arrington are definitely onto something. In a world of proliferating media, where the "long tail' of many, many small publishers is collectively challenging the big institutions at the "head", clever ways of collecting and organising far-flung bits of information will be incredibly useful. With luck they will give Google and Yahoo! and Amazon and eBay quite a bit to think about.
Jonathan Weber is the founder and editor in chief of NewWest.Net, a new type of regional news and information service focused on the Rocky Mountain West in the United States. He was previously the co-founder and editor in chief of the Industry Standard
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