By MICHAEL LIEDTKE, AP Business Writer
Google Inc. has unintentionally provided a sneak peek at what appears
to be a looming expansion into classified advertising -- a free service
that might antagonize some of the Internet search engine's biggest
customers, including online auctioneer eBay Inc.
Screen shots of the experimental service, dubbed "Google Base,"
appeared on several Web sites Tuesday shortly after the legions of
people who dissect the online search engine leader's every move
discovered a link to a page inviting people to list things like a used
car for sale, a party planning service and current events.
Google confirmed the development of the service a few hours after
taking down the link.
"We are testing new ways for content owners to easily send their
content to Google," the Mountain View, Calif.-based company said in a
statement. "We're continually exploring new opportunities to expand
our offerings, but we don't have anything to announce at this time."
By offering a forum that would enable people to sell goods and
services without paying for the advertising, Google might hurt eBay --
a major buyer of the online ads that account for most of Google's
EBay depends on the fees that it receives for helping to sell all
kinds of products and services, including items that might be listed
for free on Google Base. The San Jose, Calif.-based company also owns
a 25 percent stake in Craigslist, a popular site that offers free
classified ads in more than 100 cities.
Google also has confirmed it's working on an online payment service,
but CEO Eric Schmidt has said the service won't compete with
Another free online classified ad service also would pose another
financial threat to newspapers, which already have been squeezed in
the cities where Craigslist provides free listings.
If a free Google listing service materializes, it could change the way
many Web sites view the online search engine leader.
Through most of its seven-year existence, Google has depicted itself
as a vehicle for delivering people to other destinations that
contained a desired piece of information or product.
But during the past 18 months, Google has increasingly been adding
more content and services that are turning its Web site into more of
portal -- a sort of one-stop shop for information and commerce.
"As soon as you start competing with some of the people that you are
indexing, it creates a completely different dynamic," said Craig
Donato, chief executive of Oodle.com, a search engine that pools
listings from dozens of classified advertising sites.
"Google can get away with a lot of stuff, but (Google Base) would
certainly give people pause," he said.
Google's diversification has coincided with tougher competition from
Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN -- two longtime portals that have
been trying to build better search engines.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
NOTE: For more telecom/internet/networking/computer news from the
daily media, check out our feature 'Telecom Digest Extra' each day at
http://telecom-digest.org/td-extra/more-news.html . Hundreds of new