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02/13/2006

Edgeio and the “Write Once, Publish Everywhere” Web

A few weeks ago I wrote a post in which I theorized that people would use personal websites as a platform for publishing various types of “listings” making the web a kind of “write once, publish everywhere” nirvana.  Just a few days after creating that post I was contacted by Keith Teare who, along with Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, is about to launch a site called Edgeio.

As it happens, Edgeio is basically founded with the same premise in mind that I outlined in my post which means that Keith and Mike were, not unsurprisingly, not only way ahead of me in that they saw this coming awhile ago, but so far ahead that they have already built a start-up to take advantage of it.  I am not sure when they are officially launching but they have raised seed money from a bunch of top tier angels and from my tour of their new site, they appear to be well on their way to having the first vertical search engine that explicitly targets personal listings embedded inside individual web sites and blogs.

If that weren’t enough, I was having lunch the other day with someone who I regard to be one of the best technology minds in the valley and he told me that he was being recruited to be CTO of a start-up that competes directly with Edgeio.  I had to laugh though because only in Silicon Valley can you have two supposedly “stealth” companies competing with each other before either of them is even launched.  Amazing.

Anyway, for better or for worse then it appears as though we are on the cusp of several new “edge” focused search engines that plan to aggregate blog-based listings and then compete with established classified oriented sites such as Realtor.com, Craig’s List, Ebay, etc.

Living On The Edge
In Edgeio’s case, they are attempting to leverage as much of the existing blog/web infrastructure as possible in order to make the listings process as painless as possible.  On its own, Edgeio is already crawling almost 26 million websites, most of which one has to assume are blogs.   If you have a blog and it has an RSS feed, chances are they are already indexing your content.  The only thing a blog owner needs to do to get a listing included in Edgeio’s listings database is to tag a post with the word “listing”.   That’s it.

Edgeio then processes all incoming RSS feeds and splits off any new posts with a “listing” tag and automatically incorporates them into its listings database.  That database can be searched at Edgeio.com but is also available to other websites, presumably via some kind of RSS meta-feeds.  One of the more ingenious aspects of Edgeio’s design is that they let the blogger know their listing has been successfully indexed by posting a “Trackback” to the specific post on the blog that has been indexed.  They also leverage the increasingly important “ping server” networks to figure out when new posts are created.

While Edgeio does not fully embrace the precepts of Structured Blogging yet, it does allow owners to embellish listings on Edgeio’s site once they are indexed and it’s pretty clear that Edgeio could easily support more advanced tagging or structured blogging initiatives if it chooses to.

End users searching Edgeio’s listings can contact the owners via “anonymous” e-mail addresses, which Edgeio intermediates (and which also provides a convenient monetization point).  Owners can also leverage their reputation from other services such as EBay, Linked-In, by allowing end users to see their user ID for these services.  Presumably, someone interested in a particular listing might look up what someone’s reputation is on EBay to see if they want to deal with them or not.  Spam is addressed by allowing end users to flag a posting as spam which I suspect will lead to greater scrutiny and perhaps even blocking of whatever RSS feed that spam came from.

Edgeio vs. Google Base

In many ways, Edgeio is kind of like an independent version of Google Base, only with a much easier way for owners to get listings into the site (they don’t have to lift a finger) and with a much more end-user friendly interface.   Rather than get bogged down in the numerous “hard” computer science issues that plague unstructured data management, Edgeio has instead tried to keep its whole architecture very lightweight and loose and to leverage as much of the existing web and blog infrastructure as possible.  It’s a very cool example of how it’s possible to put a fairly rich application together on the web today without a lot of heavy lifting.  By comparison, Google Base relies on a “build it and they will come” approach that requires owners to comply with complex schemas and puts 100% of the burden of listing an item on the owner.  Not surprisingly, Google’s approach reflects that of an Internet titan that expects everyone to beat a path to its door, while Edgeio’s approach reflects the zero-up front investment and customer-friendly approach that start-ups must often take.

Cart Before the Horse?
While I am impressed with the vision and execution behind Edgeio, I am also concerned that in some ways building the infrastructure to process and distribute blog based listings might be putting the cart before the horse in many respects.   Even though there are supposedly 28M blogs out there right now, the average blog is not optimized for creating classified listings and the average user is unlikely to seek out this functionality.  Even a geek such as myself would have to create a separate blog for my listings as I don’t want a lot of random posts cluttering up my main feed.

What’s needed then for services like Edgeio to really take off is a new kind of blogging platform, or at least an extension of existing blogging/social networking platforms, that explicitly contemplates and enables people to post and manage listings.  The sites that are coming the closest to such a platform right now are the social networking sites, such as MySpace, which are allowing their users to post an increasing amount of information which they presumably can start indexing and re-publishing, however no one is really doing a good job of it yet.

I’d say that there’s a good start-up opportunity to create this kind of blogging platform, but given my experience with Edgeio I suspect that someone already has, I just don’t know about it yet.  Either way, I think that services such as Edgeio will find it hard to get critical mass until either new blogging platforms that explicitly contemplate personal listings emerge or existing platforms upgrade and enhance their offerings to explicitly enable this capability.  The good news is that both things are bound to happen in the near future which means that the vision of a “write once, publish everywhere” web will soon become a reality.

February 13, 2006 | Permalink

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The thoughts and opinions on this blog are mine and mine alone and not affiliated in any way with Inductive Capital LP, San Andreas Capital LLC, or any other company I am involved with. Nothing written in this blog should be considered investment, tax, legal,financial or any other kind of advice. These writings, misinformed as they may be, are just my personal opinions.