Edgeio, the much-hyped Web 2.0 tag-sale site, has only been live for a few hours, but it’s already wearing a corpselike look.
Cofounded by Michael Arrington, the madam of the great Web 2.0 brothel TechCrunch, Edgeio gathers specially tagged classified ads from sundry RSS feeds, aggregates and categorizes them, and then republishes them at its own central site. (Or, as it snappily says of itself: “edgeio dynamically organizes listings published from RSS enabled websites making them discoverable via the edgeio website and through an open set of web services.”) So, let’s say I finally decide to unload the old canoe that’s been patiently wasting away on sawhorses beside my garage for the last three years. I could post a little ad on this blog, wrap the text in a special tag and, thanks to the genius of Dave Winer, it would soon show up among various other disused personal flotation devices over at Edgeio. Now, of course, I have no desire whatsoever to start sticking classified ads on my blog, but never mind that – it’s the elegance of the idea that counts.
Edgeio is entering a crowded market that, thanks to cheap startup costs and an influx of VC greenbacks, shows no sign of thinning out for a good long while. It’s going to have to compete against a whole lot of other similar web services with names as silly as its own – eBay, Google Base, Craigslist (not so silly, actually), Monster, Oodle, Indeed, BlogBuy, Windows Live Expo, etc. – as well as many new ones that will no doubt spring up in the months ahead. It will also compete, of course, against newspapers, Yellow Pages, and other old-school media.
Now, at a techno-theoretical level, Edgeio is quite cool. But in the face of fierce competition, cool alone won’t cut it. And, at a business level, Edgeio would seem to have more than a few problems. There’s the avalanche-of-spam problem, which has already been much discussed. Edgeio says it will fight spam through a combination of “social controls” and filtering. Well, good luck. There’s the fraud problem. “It is currently being left up to the buyer and seller to close the transaction,” reports TechCrunch, helpfully. There’s the walls-of-confusion problem, which Dion Hinchcliffe has described. Ping servers? RSS feeds? Listing tags? Content on the edges? Jeez, I just want to sell a freaking canoe. There’s the who-wants-to-stick-classified-ads-on-their-blog problem (see above). There’s the most-people-who-sell-crap-don’t-even-have-blogs-or-websites problem. Yes, believe it or not, it’s true. There’s the old how-do-we-actually-make-money problem. Edgeio seems to be punting that question for the moment, but selling ads to run beside ads appears to be one idea for the future.
But most of all there are the two problems that Mike at Techdirt highlights: a lack of barriers to competition (the downside to building a company on “an open set of web services” is that your business model is really easy to copy) and a lack of meaningful differentiation from the customer’s perspective (“We hadn’t heard of people complaining that Craigslist and eBay were too centralized,” says Techdirt, drily). It’s hard to see exactly how Edgeio will pry a lot of customers away from an entrenched player like Craigslist or protect itself from a head-on assault by, say, Google or Microsoft or Yahoo.
In short, Edgeio enters a crowded market with a ton of pizzazz and a gram of strategy. Sound familiar? It should. It’s what’s engaved on the virtual gravestones of hundreds of dot-coms.