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Small and the New Big (JJ-V)

(October 11, 2006) So, from here, it looks like both small and big will continue to dominate the web. JobCoin and similar services will provide job board functionality while services modeled after Jobster and Simply Hired will dot the big end of things. The little guys will multiply far more rapidly than the big guys (there are 40,000 job boards today and the number is doubling every three years or so. We got press releases announcing 45 last week.

As long as widely read commentators misunderstand the difference between the use of syndicated materials, fair use referrals and outright copyright infringement, the arguments will remain muddied. Ignorance, often intentional, is at the root of the cloud of misunderstanding surrounding the issue. Of course there's a difference between acquiring and using data without permission (even if Google does it) and delivering a sample for reference purposes.

Job boards have more value per transaction the closer that they can bring candidate and employer. In high volume settings, this amounts to getting permission to forward the candidate's resume (or store it in a database). High volume solutions are great for organizations with the raw resources required to sift through huge quantities of undifferentiated data. Trickle solutions are better for situations where the "fit" is familial. There will always be better economic value in smaller boards. That value is stripped away when the content is aggregated.

(As a side note, has anyone else noticed that Craigslist has stopped being the intimate stopping place for a certain kind of candidate-employer transaction and become a modern day equivalent of Usenet?)

In spite of the pejoratives that have been tossed our way, we're noticing, not "hot and bothered". What we're noticing is that while everyone's eyes are on a few technical tricks (content indexing and aggregation), there is an exploding world of opportunity in the micro-markets. As blog job boards gain traction, audience credibility and membership will become defining substitutes for a certain range of reference checking (as it was with Craigslist in the old days).

If you're over 30, you may be unaware of a trend in music. Many bands actively avoid getting a record contract. You can make more money developing an audience of 25,000 than you'll ever get with a record contract. Getting each of those 25,000 to give you $100/year is the name of the game. Do the math.

The same is true of very small job boards. An audience of 25,000 means 8,500 job transactions a year (35%). Getting 20% of that at $250/30 day posting is a healthy $400K. It's not Google. It is a great business for 3 people (anywhere but San Francisco). Even better, the employers and candidates who read the blog share values and language...both goods surrogates for fit.

Sadly, real audience builders don't want just anyone in their audience. Selectivity and shared interest are critical elements of audience cohesion. The tension between the small board operators and the aggregators will grow. It's only when you are so big that quality doesn't matter that you can afford to have just any visitor.

Bigness has to assume that all jobs, job searches and candidates are commodities. Small gets to act like they are nuanced and individual. Of course, both are true (it's a question of perspective). The question is who gets the business? Fortunately, most of the job aggregators claim to have no interest in selling job ads. If that remains true, the conflicts will be minor.

To wrap this series, let's imagine a future in which content aggregation is a profitable business. Let's further imagine that RSS adapts to allow selectivity in distribution and (gasp) compensation.

Pretty clearly, indexing will be around for a while to come. It may be a good starting point for entry level job hunters. We have to imagine an increasing tension between big and small players coupled with a clearer sense of market targeting for all players. It's easier to do that when you are small.

John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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