Thursday, December 01, 2005

Seriously, What’s Google Up To?

With the release of the oddly titled Google Base, Google promises to dominate yet another market: online classifieds. Not content with trying to index the world’s Websites, the new beta service allows people to create even more content, including “all types of online and offline information and images.”

While the company insists Base is not a classified ad service, since this content will be searchable not only on Google Base but also on Google Search, Froogle and Google Local, you know doggone well it will be used for classified ads.

Given the huge decline in newspaper readership, any significant competition in the classified ad business could prove to be the death knell for many metropolitan dailies. And given that many readers of newspapers are switching to online editions, supported by online ads, although not necessarily online classifieds – Google’s service is even more troubling.

According to a report in Editor & Publisher, the Audit Bureau of Circulations' showed a 2.6 percent decline in daily paid circulation for US newspapers, while Nielsen//NetRatings says newspaper Web site viewership grew 11 percent year-over-year to 39.3 million unique visitors in October 2005, or 26 percent of the active US Internet population. Newspapers’ online growth is greater than the growth of the active Internet universe as a whole, which rose 3 percent, so this flight to the Web is concerning for newspaper companies dependent on classified ads.

Google says it is not planning at this point to offer its own ads on Google Base, but I can’t believe that’s not part of the ultimate plan.

So we have to ask ourselves, if Google Base isn’t about advertising, what the heck it is about?

Certainly there are many different kinds of opportunities for people to post their own content on the Web – blogs, for example. Google did swallow Blogger, and so offers a blogging service of its own. Google even uses Blogger to make company announcements, like the announcement of the Google Base service. Let’s dig a little bit into Google Base and see what we can turn up. First off, Google offers various categories of entries, or you can make up your own. Here are their standard categories:

  • Course Schedules
  • Events and Activities
  • Jobs
  • News and Articles
  • People Profiles
  • Products
  • Recipes
  • Reference Articles
  • Reviews
  • Services
  • Vehicles
  • Wanted Ads

Notice how Google has coyly put classified ads at the bottom by calling them Wanted Ads. Subtle but perhaps telling. Yet on the main Google Base page, among the several examples of entries include Cars for Sale, a category squarely in the classified ad space. Google offers helpful filters to let you search for cars by make and location. I found the Volvo dealer in my neighborhood had many cars listed, Google helpfully provides a map of the area so you can find it.

Since there are perhaps eight other auto dealers in my immediate area, I’m not sure why Borton Volvo is the first one to come up. The listings appear to be ordered alphabetically, kind of like the other advertising medium being threatened by Google Base: the yellow pages. Don’t be surprised if the businesses near you suddenly change to names like AAAAA Borton Volvo and so on.

Of course, there are plenty of car sites out there, such as CarSoup and, and there are other search engines who can find you a car, such as Yahoo, who uses AutoTrader’s database, and the granddaddy of them all, Intellichoice. But Google’s integration with Google Maps makes for an interesting edge.

But enough about cars, Google Base will eat newspapers’ lunch in apartment rentals, house sales, jobs, and all the other classified ad categories. Interestingly, the top company in Jobs is not alphabetically advantaged – workHaven. So Google must already be doing some sort of pay for placement scheme.

So, on the one hand, Google is making a play to dominate content on the Web: Other ways to submit information to Google include Google Video, Google Print, and Google Sitemaps. On the other hand, Google uses content to drive advertising revenue. Therefore, despite protestations, Google Base is a key part of the company’s strategy to dominate online advertising.

Stay tuned. The term googlewatching may yet take its place beside the other common verb, googling.

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