Thursday, October 27, 2005

Strength in numbers...

See, even Henry Blodget agrees (freebay_or_toast?). So I must be right ;)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chicken Littles and eBay's X Factor

With the announcement of Google Base, chicken littles galore have surfaced announcing the increasing competition between eBay and Google (this_one_is_my_favorite). Here's a little reminder for folks...

1. eBay = 170MM+ users, Craigslist = 10MM unique monthly visitors, Google Base = not launched

2. Paypal = 87MM+ users, Google Purchases = not launched

3. Skype = 55MM+ users & 188MM downloads, Google Talk = ?

I admire Google for its ability to innovate and introduce new products seemingly at will. Without doubt, they are the clear leaders in Search. I have a number of friends who work at Google and who are some of the smartest folks I know. That said, eBay has a few smart people as well, working with a singular focus on making eBay a global trading platform without parallel. Ultimately, what makes eBay, Paypal and Skype unique is the multi-million member communities that drive and thrive on these platforms (irregardless of the above bloggers' view of the eBay UI). Successfully managing massive communities where trust, communication and common interests intersect is hard, if not near-impossible. eBay, Paypal and Skype have succeeded by empowering these tens/hundreds of millions of users to interact with one another on the basis of trust (how easy is that to replicate?). eBay's success and future is only a mirror of the success and potential of these 200MM and growing community members...

There have been numerous auction/shopping sites, person to person payment services and VOIP providers that have come to the market. Ultimately they fall short of enabling their communities to scale as eBay, Paypal and Skype have done. Google may or may not end up to be a strong competitor, but as Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Citibank, Amazon, Taobao (and yes even Overstock) have learned, while it may be possible to replicate eBay's technology platform or business model (believe me that ain't easy), it's 'a mite' harder to copy the collective community of users which drives eBay, Paypal and Skype's success.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Google Base

Google_Base is coming. Hide the children. Let me understand something... Google wants to introduce a free listing service so that anyone can put attributes-based product or services on Google's servers for free, for example "a description of a party planning service" (Craigslist) or "a listing for a used car" (eBay). Hmm. So lets run down what Google is (purportedly) looking to build - a free nationwide wifi network, a (free?) online payment system, a free online collection of published works, a free network-based OS via desktop search/toolbar, a free Office and business productivity tool offering, a free VOIP communication platform and a now a free listing service.

Pushing aggressively into multiple markets (with free products) doesn't often work, but Google has proven it's capable given its resources and growth (one perspective on this google_takes_all). That said, every action has a reaction. Getting sued by rights holders for copyright infringement, by trademark holders for not securing or paying for the Gmail mark, and by Microsoft for employee poaching is indicative of the response to (and ultimately a measurement of) the aggressiveness of Google's initial course of action.

I don't believe the general consensus that a company with Google's business model or team can be overextended. Ultimately they've created an innovation machine on the basis of a near monopolistic control of search and ad placement. Offer something for free, tie Google's brand to it and (tada) you will have some level of adoption. I would, however, point out that innovation unfettered (and made public without actually releasing anything) can sometimes equate to the proverbial stick in the hornets nest. Google seems to have lots of sticks riling up lots of hornets...

Update: This comes from Techdirt Understanding Why All Your Base May Belong To Google. Irregardless of Google using Google Base to compete with eBay/Craigslist or not, the article comments on using the Google Base structure as a simple interface to a hosted database that developers could use to build web-based applications. Essentially a developer would self-define his online database using Google Base and could push/pull that info to his app. An alternative to writing SQL queries? Now Oracle can start fretting (MS is already there).

Friday, October 21, 2005

It's the demographics stupid!

With Microsoft launching demographic targeting of ads, scuttlebutt says Google is willing to pay $5B for AOL's business to obtain AOL's massive database of user demographics to overlay to their keyword search. To (mis)quote a wise man to remain nameless "the online ad marketplace is evolving from 'search' to 'searcher'". Ultimately knowing that a keyword search for "Red Hot Chili Peppers" is placed from a 25-year old male band groupie versus a 67-year old woman looking to garnish her salad, translates to more targeted, relevant results both for natural and paid search. Microsoft could gain a foothold with advertisers based on a better algorithm for site results and ad placement and there's not many ways Google could gain scale in this business without AOL.

On a related note, the eBay_Market_Data Program has just launched shipping, demographic and International site data, overlaying eBay's massive transactional database. For those developers, marketers, retailers and manufacturers interested in better understanding how different brands, keywords, product types and categories are sold on eBay by age and sex of buyer, send me an email and I'll get you in contact with Laura Della Torre on my team who manages the program.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

How (not) to become popular

Hilarious post by the guy who hacked MySpace and essentially brought it down completely. For one fleeting moment he was one of the most popular people... ever. MySpace_hack.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Time Warner mulls AOL stake! wait...

Yahoo!, Google, Comcast and MSN all vying for a relationship with AOL. This is a perfect opportunity for Time Warner to set up a listing on eBay for AOL and auction it off to the highest bidder. I imagine Microsoft can't appreciate all the sudden interest in AOL given how close they were (or were not) to closing an agreement on a joint venture. Makes you wonder if TW/AOL let the proverbial cat out of the bag proactively.

If that's the case, I don't see Microsoft gearing up to a JV with TW/AOL if they're publically vying for interest from other parties... That works well when you're dealing with vendors (having them fight for your business by forcing them to cut price or offer improved service), but tends to ink the well with potential partners. I also don't see Google/Comcast's purported offer flying either. Carving out AOL's growth vehicles (online advertising/IM) and leaving TW with a depreciating asset (AOL dial-up service) seems like a non-starter for a company seeking a growth story like a hangover-induced 2AM search for a Steak and Eggs diner.

Either 1) nothing happens from all of this due to TW/AOL's own inflated sense of value based on recent analyst coverage or 2) there's an outright purchase of AOL, with TW maintaining some large minority interest to inherit a growth vehicle story for the press.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Another Skype post... my apologies.

A most excellent article from the the O'Reilly Network describing the Skype service down_to_the_last_detail.

eBay/Google Mashup and the Amway Salesman

This is the best integration of eBay with Google Maps to date that I've seen (apologies to Adam - you're eBay Motors mash-up is great too ;)). eBay/Google_Map. Essentially it allows users to geolocate every item on the eBay site, with integration to eBay's Affiliate program to monetize the app for the developer.

In non-related news, Jeff Matthew's wrote a great blog on the integration of Yahoo and Microsoft's IM networks. The Amway Salesman in the Driveway. He actually hit the proverbial nail on its head for me, since I only have one contact on my Yahoo Messenger and about 50 on AIM (though I'm slowly converting folks over to Skype's IM ;)).

Google Purchases sighting!


Techdirt just published Google Leaves Their Wallet Exposed. Like the Lockness Monster, Google Purchases surfaced briefly, was sighted and quickly disappeared again. Apparently a sign up page for 'Google Purchases' was left (I assume mistakenly) exposed to the public, until it was discovered and pulled offline. Here's the link with a screenshot of the sign up flow for the service - a (now offline) website for "Google Purchases."

Set aside the prerequisite massive registered/verified user base to even make a person to person payment platform palatable for users, let alone merchants - an incredibly complex security and fraud prevention/detection system is an absolute requirement to make it a go. Hence why Yahoo!, Citibank and eBay all abandoned their attempts at competing with Paypal, even with each managing $billions in online transactions. Just like the Lockness Monster, Google may be better served leaving Purchases as urban legend than surface the creature many of its competitors tried to engage only to ultimately submit to...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Semi-evil?

Interesting post from former eBay peer, now Yahoo Director, Jeffrey McManus. This Is At Least Semi-Evil. Apparently Google is force-feeding their search engine when Firefox users try to add Wikipedia to the browser. The horror...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Blog like He-Man

When I was 5, I used to watch He-Man. Before every show he would yell "I have the power!" and then proceed to punch, kick and bare his chest at his arch-nemesis Skeletor, before beating the pulp out of him.


Writing this blog the past few months, I've had a glimpse of my He-Man strength. For those of you who still don't quite understand the value of blogging, i submit Exhibit A (the web result gif to the left). I wrote a blurb on the convergence of data/voice and its cross-industry impact (a whole week before our announcement of Skype of which I had no knowledge whatsoever) and called it "Battle of the Network Stars 2005".

If you squint really hard, you'll see that on MSN_Search, my blog about something completely unrelated to the TV show came up 30 (10 results per page) out of 881,694 search results for keywords "battle of the network stars". Sad but true, I estimate 10% of traffic to this blog has been driven by this natural-search placement. Similarly, Adam Trachtenberg (chief evangelist on our team) developed a mashup for eBay Motors (check_it_out) which was blogged by Business 2.0. That reference is now 21 out of 10MM results for "eBay Motors" on Google.

Now that's blogging power! So for those of you who are still waiting on the blog fringes, I know its hard to imagine having a top search result on MSN or Google for "Battle of the Network Stars", but all that could be yours ;). If that doesn't convince you to start blogging, nothing will... (Btw, I fully expect to be a top search result for "He-Man" now ;))

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Googly JRE

While everyone is waxing poetic about Google's distribution of StarOffice or a potential GoogleOffice, I find the distribution of the JRE (Java Run Environment) through the Google Toolbar hella more interesting. One of the issues with Java applications (in my humble non-techie opinion) is the difficulty of maintaining an updated JDK. I have unfortunate first hand knowledge of this issue trying to distribute an applet that runs on Java, the eBay Live Auction platform. While eBay Live Auctions runs perfectly on Java 1.5, users need to upgrade from previous versions, which is both a hassle and (bluntly) a loss in revenue as some users simply don't upgrade.

By distributing and auto-updating the JRE for Google toolbar users, Java developers have to worry less about update issues per the above and now have access to a massive end-user base of toolbar users now ready to use Java apps. So if I'm choosing between .Net or Java for writing an app, the Google deal makes Java a lot more appetizing...

Meanwhile, Google now enables a virtual operating platform for the web AND desktop via its toolbar, with a large , well established Java developer community. An operating platform and developer community which Google can now help guide for its benefit. Consider a partnership between Sun and Google... who holds more leverage?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The 2 minute blog


Waiting to board a plane back from a trip to the O.C. (on a recruiting event for eBay) and blogging via my Treo. I've owed some recognition for two developers that recently launched some very cool services for the eBay community - www.receller.com and www.unwiredbuyer.com.

Both services target mobile services for eBay users. Receller has a fairly audacious goal, enabling the casual eBay user to sell on eBay without having to actually know anything about online auctions or sales . You just take a pic on your camera phone and send it to receller. Within 30 seconds the receller team calls you and walks through the selling process, providing key advice along the way and essentially doing all the work for you (outside of packing/shipping). Receller then charges a nominal fee ($10?) per call. It breaks down to a guided selling service for eBay (hopefully converting the 150 million eBay buyers to sellers as well). So forget the weekend garage sale and try receller next time ...

Unwiredbuyer provides buyers an IVR (interactive voice response) bidding system for eBay buyers. Just go to their site, log in with your eBay ID and Unwiredbuyer tracks any item you're watching. Three minutes before the end of the listing, a call is placed to you and you're able to track the end of the auction and bid in real-time all via your phone. It's free so there's no excuse - go try it out.

Plane's about to jet and apparently Southwest doesn't appreciate blogging during lift off so I'm out.
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