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Millions Of Local Niches.1

(October 24, 2005) Don't do it. The future is not as bleak as you might think. Don't give away your strategic assets in a moment of panic. Don't kill yourself just because you can.

This is the message of the recent decision by Craig's List to stop Oodle from scraping jobs from the site. The message is for owners of audience driven classified advertising solutions, ranging from Monster to the local job board. Vertical Search Engines take your content and give you nothing in return.

Your content enables them to compete with you for traffic based advertising. They should buy it for you. It's nonsense to think that your valuable asset, job listings, are somehow free for the taking by a competitor. The folks at Craig's List are right. Here's one view:

Craig Newmark from Craigslist either wasn't asked or didn't like the deal (?) and has asked Oodle to stop scraping.. Oodle has complied but it seems from this reader's perspective like they do so a bit begrudgingly, playing the whole "what's best for the customers?" card:

I think it's important to keep in mind what's best for consumers. And I think being open is good for consumers.

It's one thing if Oodle was a truly open source project with no ads and no money making, or somebody's personal project that had no commercial actiivty, but it is quite another when they are running this mashup as a business, complete with rolling out the stench of greasy slick buzzwords. Craig said that the Web 2.0 speak thing was just a joke, but the timing could hardly be any worse.

Jason Calacanis vents on the situation in the comments area of John Battelle's blog:

"I for one am sick of people saying something is Meta or Web 2.0 when what they really means is it's based on stealing Fair use is one thing, wholesale scraping/syndication is another. Oodle, Indeed, etc. should a) get permission and b) consider paying Craig a licensing fee for his content."
(Make You Go Hmmm)

The underlying truth is that firms like Oodle, SimplyHired, Indeed, JobRobots and Jobster are all attempting to compete directly with the people whose content they are stealing. While there is an interesting underlying principle, offering world wide access to all of the jobs currently open, the truth is that niche-y targeting is far more effective than specialized searching.

When we saw SimplyHired at the DEMO conference, they were peddling their improvements for job hunters over the Monster Standard interface, not some better use of search technology. Their eyes positively glazed over at the prospect of discussing turning the data into something bigger than a compiled list of jobs. There revenue objectives clearly have to do with delivering job information directly to consumers in a repackaged form.

There have been a number of recent articles on the subject:

  • We really liked Growing Pains in MetaVertical Search, a deep and insightful look from outside the industry
    "Oodle was singled out, Buckmaster said, only because it called attention to itself "by scraping way more listings, and by using our name in their press releases, homepage, and marketing materials." Others with similar models would do well to check out Craigslist's terms of service, he suggested. (Oodle maintains those TOS were recently changed to disallow a practice previously unmentioned.) "
  • Along very similar lines, John Batelle (emerging as a key analyst of search engine development), looks at the Google/Publisher conflict (a very similar issue:
    Here We Go Again: Publishers Sue Google
    If this sounds familiar, it's because the Author's Guild sued Google last month. Now, the Publishers (via their trade group the AAP) are joining in. It seems Eric's WSJ Op Ed was timed ahead of this news...
    I really don't get this. I have been both a publisher and an author, and I have to tell you, these guys sue for one reason and one reason alone, from what I can tell: Their legacy business model is imperiled, and they fear change. Of course, if they can get out of their own way, they'll end up making more money. But that never stopped these guys - the MPAA, the RIAA, and now, the AAP.
    (John Batelle's SearchBlog)

Monster's TOS have always forbidden robotic interfaces, it's just a question of enforcement.  Any operation without clearly defined parameters for robotic interfaces should quickly bring them up to speed.

How's it going to shake out? Will other Craigslist-like publishers ask their listings to be removed?  "We have recommended to our [publisher] clients that, in many cases, they should participate," said Peter Zollman of consulting group Classified Intelligence. "In most cases we believe they should participate with the aggregation companies -- most specifically Google -- because there is a lot to be gained. There is frankly also a lot to be lost, but we think the benefits outweigh the downsides."  Some suggest the pricing model for classifieds must change in the face of aggregation, such that publisher are rewarded for bringing advertisers leads (and increasing distribution through search). An addition to that model is one in which advertisers pay extra, like on eBay, to get their listings highlighted.

"As the price point for classifieds goes down -- and a lot of the pressure to push that down comes from sites like Craigslist -- there's more volume," opines Oodle's Donato. "The flip side of volume is there's more clutter to break through."

How will it all shake out? I think Zollman said it best: "With a lot of difficulty."

( Growing Pains in MetaVertical Search,)

We'll argue differently for the time being. Allowing companies with no business model to steal material because they can (technically) makes no sense. The transaction should be monetized or prevented.

Don't forget to check out the blogs on bert.

- John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.

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