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November 15, 2006

Google Base One Year Later

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It’s hard to believe that the little Craigslist-competitor-that-could was launched one year ago today. They all grow up so fast. However, the anniversary made me wonder – What is Google Base up to these days? It doesn’t sound like it’s thriving the way a one-year-old should.

Admittedly, I don’t spend much time on Google Base. Mostly because I have nothing to sell and I’m too broke to actually buy anything, but also because Google never brings it to my attention. Let’s take a look at it.

Once I venture over there I’m immediately bothered. I want the search bar moved up higher. The first time I viewed the page I felt myself getting all uppity about not being able to search directly from the homepage. Then I noticed it was hiding down on the bottom. Google, please don’t scare me like that.

Moving on.

I decide to play with a few of the categories. Let’s start out in jobs.

Google already knows my zip code and has brought up a list of jobs in my area. Drats, if only I had gone to school for nursing I’d be totally set.

I change my specs and see a position that matches my official title here. Most exciting, it’s located a mere 20 miles from my apartment. Let’s see what it’s about. I click on it and am immediately transferred off the site. Hmm, I’m not a big fan of that. Why aren’t Google Base listings kept on the GB site? I trust Google. I don’t trust other people. That’s a turn-off.

Of course, once I make it to the third-party site I realize I don’t actually do any technical writing here and I am completely unqualified for this position. Bummer. [What do you mean “bummer”? You’re never leaving here.–Susan] Still, the process is easy, gives me all the info I need upfront (where’s it’s located on the big Google map, job category, distance from my house, etc), and it only feels slightly random and disorganized.

Now I’m hooked, let’s do another search. How about housing? This hour-long commute to work everyday is killing me, girl needs to move!

I enter in a zip that’s close to work and enter in all my necessary info (listing type = for sale, price = under $600,000, bedrooms = 1+, etc) and see what Google Base spits back. Okay, it’s confirmed. I’m never moving. Still, the listings are clean, the interface is easy to use, and I can even subscribe to an RSS for this search. Pretty awesome.

I conclude I’m happy with the Google Base interface and the information it provides, but I do have one major complaint.

Why isn’t this information integrated into my Google search? It’s not even listed in their full menu of options. (click for full size.)

What I mean is, when I search for "real estate 93003", where are all the Google Base listings on the SERP? They’re nowhere to be found. Sure, I get my onebox if I search for just "real estate", but I don’t like the extra step of having to input my data. I think Google should just recognize that I’m looking to buy real estate I can’t afford and offer the sad news upfront. I can take it.

It may sound nitpicky, but I think it’s important. First, most users won’t do a broad search for "real estate". They’ll search for "real estate California" or "real estate Ohio". By not providing them the onebox upfront, they’re missing out (and therefore so are the listers) on a targeted searcher.

Second, by not showing me the strength of your verticals at every chance possible, I’m more likely to forget you even have them. How many non-search nerds know Google Base even exists? How many people have used it?

I was still determined to see Google Base results on my SERP, so I did a bunch of searches with the sole intent of hitting something that would bring up the product Google Base onebox. I searched for New Balance sneakers, computer monitors, action figures (that was for Susan), but all to no avail. [She’s not joking, I collect DC action figures. My desk is awesome–Susan] — We need a picture of this for the blog. Maybe in Friday’s Recap? Finally, my internal light bulb went off and I searched for my dinner staple – the almighty "popcorn maker". (You’re starting to feel sorry for me, aren’t you?)

This works, almost.

My search brought up the product listings, but I noticed that my results weren’t being pulled from Google Base. Instead, they’re still being pulled from Froogle. Why?

Froogle was supposed to be phased out in time for this year’s holiday season – or at least that’s what we were told. Today is November 15th, deep into 2006’s all important fourth quarter, and we’re still pulling from the old database. That’s troubling. I would expect Froogle to be gone by now and for Google Base listings to be prevalent in Google’s main SERP. And the fact that it’s not is a problem.

Users are confused. Should they be looking in Froogle for holiday gifts or should they be looking in Google Base? Are users met with the same results in both? I don’t know and it’s frustrating enough that I don’t care. I’ll just shop on Amazon and save myself the headache – which is the sentiment Google needs to fight.

By allowing Google Base to remain under the radar, it’s stunting its growth and separating it from its customer base. The fact is, despite its potential, users still have to work to bring it up, and even when they do hit the magic word, they’re still not being given the right service.

I think Google has a gem in Google Base, but there are still growing pains that need to be worked out. Google needs to rev up its attempts to fully integrate Google Base into its SERP and give it a hard re-launch. The functionality and appeal is there, but because it’s not integrated into the Google page we used everyday, few users know it exists.

Happy Birthday, Google Base. May you have a more publicized second year.

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