When we set out to build Oodle, we had a specific vision about the role we wanted to play in the market. We thought we could fill an important hole in the classifieds industry by helping buyers. We also wanted to create a business model that was complementary to existing classified businesses (that represent sellers, landlords, employers, etc.). As such, we made an early decision not take listings.
As we’ve walked down this path, we seem to have wandered into a larger industry trend. Vertical search engines appear playing a role in a new online topology –- something I’ve begun to call open markets. Open markets are made up of online retailers loosely bound together by one or more vertical search engines. The vertical search engines act as a first stop, quickly guiding consumers to the right product at the right retailer.
For years, Shopping.com, Bizrate and Froogle have been creating such a topology within ecommerce. Even Amazon, which had been pursuing a walled garden strategy, adopted more of an open-market model. Recently, however, this open market approach began to spread. New players like Kayak and SideStep are helping to shape an open market in the travel industry, as are Topix.Net and Technorati with news, and most recently Oodle with local classified listings.
Why now? First, consumers increasingly want their online experience guided by search. At the recently Kelsey Group conference, a whole session detailed how search has become the integral component of a consumer’s “product purchasing process” for not only buying the item, but for informing the consideration process.
Second, businesses now embrace search. Lightweight business models, in the form of affiliate programs and content syndication, now exist to wire open markets. Several years ago, eBay fought off efforts to have a search engine crawl their content. Now you can access eBay listings through an API if you participate in their affiliate program. The world has changed.