A few weeks back, my column "Google Base: AdWords for the Rest of Us" discussed theoretical implications for Google Base. Today, we'll take a look at how it really works, and we'll continue the exploration next week.
The gist of Base, accessible at base.google.com, is that it's a database where anyone can post products, jobs, services, personals, recipes, articles, events, course schedules, or a customized listing. It's all free, and it's not even ad-supported. These listings can also find their way into other Google sites, including the main engine, which of course offer sponsored listings. By and large though, this is the prototypical Google beta--a la Google News and Desktop Search--that aims to gain a following before there's any concerted effort to make a profit. There are manifold opportunities to profit, however; while this may benefit the public, the primary beneficiary will be Google. And unlike the news and desktop applications, Base is a true Google original.
Below are some first reactions to the liftoff of Base.
Coopetition: I wrote in the first Base column, "With a single new release, Google could find itself competing with eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, Monster, and even FoodNetwork.com." For the time being, other sites actually benefit from Base. Commercial listings, for example, refer visitors to links designated by the poster where the consumer can buy a product. Retail listings abound with links from Amazon affiliates and eBay sellers (within five minutes of testing out Google Base, I bought a new Billy Joel boxed set via an Amazon affiliate; turn off 1-Click ordering before trying out Base).
Posts can mention the acceptable methods of payment, but there's no option to pay directly. Tellingly, as many sources noted the day Base debuted, it doesn't even list PayPal (owned by eBay) as a possible payment method. Google is reportedly developing its own payment system, but that's not yet live with Base. The moral here is that Google's doing the other online giants a favor right now, but over the long haul, Base will be a thorn in their side that could shed serious blood.
Also in the short term, there are many other beneficiaries in the Internet economy. Job postings refer back to sites like CareerBuilder. Listings for cars, recipes, and personals all link elsewhere. Searching for "hottie" in Base's people profiles brought up a listing from Mike seeking "Bay Area hotties" with a link to his MySpace page, where he says he likes to "keep it simple," "chill outside" and "look for trouble." Base in its current form is the rising tide that lifts all sites, and if Bay Area Mike can get some action in the process, then there's hope for every Internet user in the world to benefit from Base.
Fine Tuning: Refining search results is easy. Searching for "Batman," for example, brings up an option to narrow your search for Batman merchandise by price. Price options then appear in a drop-down menu. If you select a price range (the options vary based on the range of merchandise for a given search term), you can return to broader searches by hitting a simple "clear" button next to each attribute.
Even more fun is narrowing search results by location. Scouring volunteer opportunities, I keyed in my zip code, 10025, and it plotted listings on a map of Manhattan. Clicking a marker on the map revealed a particular opportunity, along with contact information.
Google Base is one of the most intuitive applications I've seen online (though for the real test, I'll have to run this by my Grandmom, whom I've been trying to teach how to use Google--see "Google vs. Grandmom"), and that's true for both the posting and the searching. It's one of the many reasons to unwrap every corner of Base and see what it offers. We'll continue the celebration next week; in the meantime, see if you can search Base for a decent birthday cake recipe.