A Google executive has denied that its new Base service, unveiled as a beta today, was "a play in any kind of e-commerce space", but only the foolish would take Salar Kamangar, vice president of product management at Google, at his word.
Google Base significantly expands the Google index beyond web pages: allowing businesses to upload their product catalogs and listings, and users to detail products for sale, all for no fee.
Tellingly, two companies that have been working with Google Base have been CareerBuilder, a classified recruitment company, and StepUp, a San Francisco site which exposes local retailers' product inventories, founded by former HandSpring employees. While eBay and Craiglist depend on their revenues from charging users for listings - the latter from recruitment advertising - eBay also takes a cut from the transaction and PayPal fees - Google only seeks material for its primary business, which is contextual advertising. In effect, it's in a position to undercut both eBay and Craigslist by amortizing the seller's fee amongst thousands of potential advertisers. And this is very serious indeed for eBay and Craigslist.
How successful Google will be with a commercial Base remains to be seen. But eBay's dedicated focus on auctions, and the network effects from its gigantic user base, are both formidable defenses.
As we noted last month, when details of Base were accidentally exposed, it's Craiglist that needs to worry rather more. With little traction outside its core geographical strongholds in the US, and a business model dependent on crippling its technology (it doesn't allow national searches of job classified ads) it's low hanging fruit for the Google ad machine.
However several of Google's diversifications have been half-hearted, and as we know from the history of its main search index, fighting spam and gaming sites is far from trivial.
In a section on Google Base FAQ, spam is referred to thus:
Q. How will you control for irrelevant items like pornography or SPAM material?
A. All items that are uploaded must comply with Google Base Editorial Policies and Google Base Program Policies. Items that do not meet these policies may be taken down.
Well, that's that sorted out then.
You can check out the GoogleBase beta here. ®