Google Base Beta was officially released today. It's stated to be a big public database that's an experiment in enabling the open sourcing of information. I haven't had a chance to take a good look at it, but I think this could be huge huge huge. The open source movement has been a powerful force in creating pieces of public domain intellectual capital for public and private good, but it has always lacked a unified channel to feed information through.
Google Base is expected to eventually feed into the main search engine and also help drive their local search features. THAT is what I find most interesting about this experiment. It would be like unifying the strengths of Craigslist with the Google search engine. As I said before, this could be bad news for Craiglist.
Craigslist has evolved into more of an enormous community information kiosk rather than a community of its own. You want to find out about things going on around the community you won't be able to search for it effectively through Google, but if you're not a daily Craigslist addict, you may have difficulty finding it there. As a community, it would be hard to draw people away from Craigslist, but as a service, you just have to come up with a better service and Google Base may be on its way of subverting Craigslist's core value proposition.
Everyone knows Craigslist, but only a small percentage of those people use it regularly. I've noticed this indirectly in how we've tried to promote Social Wave in our community. We use Craigslist to help us broadcast Social Wave events to a wider audience. This worked amazingly for about a couple of months. Each cross post to Craigslist brought us upwards of a thousand visitors and up to a few dozen new members per week. The pace of this success quickly hit a speed bump and today we're lucky to even get one new member out of cross posting to Craigslist.
What's interesting is that we still get a lot of visitors coming over from Craigslist. This suggests to me that people are still reading what we've posted over there, but either they no longer find it as compelling or we're just reaching the same audience over and over again and many of those people are already Social Wave members.
Even though we've intentionally limited the reach of Social Wave to the Silicon Valley region, there's enough people here (~ 1 million) that effects of broadcasting information to a public backbone shouldn't hit such the dramatic plateau that we've experienced. I'm eager to see what Google Base can do for Social Wave because while only a small percentage of people who know about Craigslist actually uses it with any regularity, just about anyone with an Internet connection uses Google at least a few times a week.
By the way, I'm not rooting against Craigslist. Craigslist is still the incumbent and has a lot going for it, but Craigslist as it exists today is not on as solid of a footing as many people think it is. If Google Base succeeds, I believe we're either going to see Craigslist continue to expand and become more complex than the Craigslist that we've gotten used to, or it could back down to its roots as a service that's more focused and relevant on the local community.
If the majority of would be casual Craigslist posters ended up going to Google Base, it would leave Craigslist with a legion of very devoted users who would be freed from the thousands of short timers who invade their community for a few days and leave only until the next time they have a need to fulfill. The question of "What do I need for myself TODAY" is not a great modus operandi to build a community around. With these people thinned out, it would create a better community experience for people who actually are tapping into Craigslist as their community connection. The growth engine of Craigslist would be stunted, but the qualities that helped its rise to stardom could end up thriving better than before.