Tech Industry

Oodle goes after Craigslist with social classifieds

The company that runs the Facebook Marketplace is exporting its technology to the open Web.

The online marketplace Oodle started as a classifieds aggregator, then dabbled in online dating (also through aggregation). In late 2008, it was given a big gift from Facebook: the social site gave Oodle its marketplace app to run. As Oodle CEO Craig Donato says, "It was a moment in time. Facebook was transitioning from building all these apps to working with partners." Since then, Oodle has been figuring out how to best run with the new Facebook classifieds system.

Finally, two years on, Oodle is merging the refresh it did of the Facebook Marketplace with its own Web site and making a run at Craigslist, a site whose data it at one point tried to incorporate into its own service.

Thanks to the Facebook code, Oodle has very solid marketplace, one based not on giving items for sale the widest possible exposure (for that, there's eBay and Craigslist) but rather on putting people who are already socially connected in touch over the sale of goods and services. The thinking is that people are more inclined to sell (or even give away) items to people in their circle and that buyers are far less likely to flake out or be creepy when they arrive to do a deal or close a transaction. That's what the Facebook Marketplace proved out, at any rate.

This announcement is a bit of a the minor one, as Oodle's social classified service already exists and is doing well on Facebook, and updating the standalone Web site to match that functionality is an obvious move. But in light of the argument over the value of customer aggregators like OpenTable and Groupon, it's interesting to think about how businesses can deepen relationships with their customers. Bringing a bunch of expensive traffic to your business that's there for a half-off bargain, or the bonus points to an aggregation service, is not how you build loyalty.

Oodle's new social marketplace, based on its Facebook app, lets you view classifieds from just people in your network.

Donato also thinks that, paradoxically, a socially connected classifieds service might end up with more products on it than an anonymous market. He's eyeing his mobile app for that. He says that with it, you can just walk through your basement, snapping quick pictures of old things you might want to get rid of, and posting these items on Oodle to share with friends. You don't have to open these up to the world. (Another start-up, Needly, had a similar model, but it recently changed direction--I'll have a story on that later.)

Donato believes that the social aspects of the Oodle-powered marketplace, which he calls, "the photo-negative of Craigslist," can be leveraged by businesses as well as by individuals. Unlike Craigslist, "which is about anonymity and search," Donato says, Oodle is about "the value of understanding who the person is." It's a potentially attractive proposition: if I'm selling a dining room table, I'd rather that the person who comes to pick it up is a friend or somehow traceable to one. Such a transaction can also pay me in social capital (in exchange for the lower price I'll charge to a friend). If businesses can somehow leverage this, without getting all creepy about it, it could help make commerce more enjoyable, business people more accountable, and possibly make goods more affordable over the long run--not just episodically or when a business decides to get on the Groupon bandwagon for a day.