SAN JOSE, Calif.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Classified ads can serve as the building blocks for an online community, said panelists during a technology conference this week focused on local Internet search.

Sarah Pate, president and CEO of AdMission Corp., a technology company focused on ad creation, display and distribution for mass audiences, said that social interaction can be built into sites that feature classified ads and other listings, forming “a hyper-niche community of relevant content” as like-minded people link up online.

These sites can become “a marketplace as opposed to isolated destination sites,” said Pate, who spoke Tuesday during a panel at the “Drilling Down on Local” conference. The annual event brings together some of the top minds in Internet search technologies and is produced by The Kelsey Group, a research firm that specializes in Yellow Pages, electronic directories and local media.

Internet search technologies are particularly relevant to the real estate industry, as research shows that a growing majority of consumers are starting their home-search research online. Also, real estate companies are stepping up spending on Internet-based advertising to compete for these tech-savvy consumers.

“The Internet has certainly allowed classifieds to geographically spread,” said Keith Teare, CEO and co-founder of Edgeio.com, which pulls real estate listings and other forms of listings from the Internet and makes them available for consumers and other sites to access. But at their core, listings are still “person-to-person commerce,” he said. “I think what you’re going to see happening is that the data is going to be more and more independent of the point at which it is published. The data is going to become freer. It is going to be syndicated, mashed together, blended up, in all kinds of ways.”

Michael Bazely, senior Web editor for the San Jose Mercury News, shared his vision for a single, centralized location where Internet users could input an online listing and other sites could capture and disseminate data from that single source, adding, “I don’t think it will ever come to pass.”

This will be difficult because of the fragmentation in the marketplace, said Rajesh Navar, founder and CEO for LiveDeal.com, a classified ad listings site.

Bazeley cited Craigslist.org, an Internet listings site that has launched in several national and international markets, as an example of a site that has built a community around Internet listings.

During a search for music online, Bazeley said he visited music Web sites and then Craigslist. “I started thinking, ‘What I want is a mash-up of the two of those.’ I want to go to Craigslist — right next to that I want to see the pricing, I want to see the ratings — much like a shopping search engine but bringing in the classified component at the same time. There are so many things you can do with the classified information … to make it more relevant.”

Henry Tam, director of local product development for Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive (WPNI), an electronic publishing subsidiary of The Washington Post Co., said classified advertising “traditionally has been siloed into its own little space,” though the lines are beginning to blur with various forms of advertising. “Consumers look at things as a whole.” Even so, there are some clear distinctions between classified listings and local business listings, he said.

Wiseman said there is a lot of room for integration of various forms of advertising and social interaction online, and he expects there will be many sites that will serve this purpose. “I don’t think there will be necessarily a single point for all of these people to find the information — there will be multiple points.” He encouraged technology innovators to “think local but build global.”

Pate said, “I just love the disruptive market — it forces change.”

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