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Archive for the ‘Classifieds’ Category

Fighting the bad guys

With more and more people searching for great deals, many consumers have turned to online classifieds sites, such as Oodle or Craigslist. This rise of popularity has not gone unnoticed by con artists, otherwise known as scammers.

As the freshly-minted product manager for trust and safety initiatives at Oodle, my job is to make sure our proprietary fraud detection software is catching scammers and flagging suspicious behavior, organize other safety initiatives, stay up-to-date on the latest trends among the scammers, and educate our users on how to stay safe.

Each and every listing posted on Oodle and its properties, such as Facebook Marketplace or AOL Classifieds, is scanned by our proprietary fraud detection software. Many listings with suspicious content or behavior are removed before ever entering our marketplaces. On a typical day, more than 1000 spammers and more than 2500 listings are removed before even entering our system.

In addition to these automatic algorithms, we do a lot of other work once listings are posted on our site. For example, we monitor users’ behavior as they continue posting other listings, or check up on listings marked as suspicious by our users.

Scammers, however, are becoming more creative in how they use online classifieds to target potential victims, which is why the team at Oodle has to be constantly on the look-out for new scams. For example, some scammers copy legitimate users’ ads for popular items and lower the price in an effort to tempt people with deals that are too good to be true. When we launched Facebook Marketplace, we noticed a surge of fraudsters posing as sellers of tempting electronics gadgets, such as unlocked iPhones or cheap GPS navigators. After examining patterns and commonalities between them, our team developed an algorithm that detects and removes most of these listings automatically.

Recently, we’ve seen a surge in fraudulent buyers contacting sellers and offering to pay more than the listed price, asking sellers to send the difference to their “shipping company.” As we speak, I am working with our engineering team on fine-tuning a new algorithm that addresses this problem. While we haven’t solved the issue completely yet, we are seeing optimistic early results.

We take safety very seriously and are as annoyed by scammers as the next person. I plan to keep our users abreast of the latest scams that we see in our safety queue, but could also use your help. If you notice any suspicious behavior on one of our sites, don’t hesitate to email with any information or questions.

Oodle’s Real-time Stream of Classifieds Listings

From a platform perspective, Oodle has a lot in common with Twitter…

1. We index a real-time a stream of perishable, unique “tweets” (800-900k new messages a day) in the form of classifieds listings. Actually, we do more than just index these listings.  Our real-time infrastructure tags, enhances and prunes the messages flowing through our system.  For example, if someone posts a listing a for “2006 Prius,” we determine that it’s a car listing (hybrid subcompact), year=2006, manufacturer=Toyota, make=Prius and enhance the listing with all the standard features, including a stock photo if one was not submitted.  (In other words, we auto-apply hash tags.)  Moreover, if someone posts a listing that is fraudulent or inappropriate, we have a range of proprietary technologies that automatically detect, flag and remove the message.

2. Users search and browse our stream. Due to the volume and structured nature of our stream, we enable users to quickly slice and dice the stream both through keyword search and by selecting attributes (or tags).   Moreover, we’ve applied our parsing technology to search, so if someone searches for a 2006 Mercedes, we convert the query into year=2006, manufacturer=Mercedes Benz to deliver the most relevant results.

3. Users post “tweets” (classified listings) into our stream.  And the post is a quick and simple process. Recently, as part of the work we did with Facebook Marketplace, we streamlined our post process to make it as lightweight as possible.  It’s not quite 140 characters but we’re getting close. More importantly, we bring the user’s identity into the listing.  So rather than a stream of anonymous content, listings are tied to the identity of the poster (on Oodle, Facebook, MySpace, etc.).  Someone can also see the previous listings posted by that user.

4. Users follow relevant topics in the stream. When you’re looking for a car, you want to see all the listings that are currently posted, as well as new listings as soon as they get introduced into the stream.   With a single click on Oodle, users can easily follow any search (e.g., Acura TLs for under $10k within 60 miles of Burlingame, CA).

5. Users share and discuss “tweets.” It’s easy to share an Oodle listing with your friends on MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.  You may see a listing you think a friend would be interested in — or want feedback from a friend (should I buy this car?).   Having said that, we’re really only just getting started in this area.  There are a lot of interesting features coming soon…

It’s exciting to see users become more comfortable with metaphors around streaming, subscribing and sharing.  It not only enables us to better represent the cool stuff we’ve built over the last few years, it serves as a wonderful launch pad for where we’re going with “social classifieds.”

Jeremy Zawodny leaving Yahoo! for Craigslist

We recently heard that Jeremy Zawodny is leaving Yahoo! for Craigslist. We’re hoping that with Jeremy’s influence, Craigslist decides to become more open. Historically, the company has not only blocked search engines (like Oodle), but has also tightly restricted user activity. It will be interesting to see if Craigslist’s stance on openness changes in the next few months.

Microsoft’s Live Expo Shuts Down

We are sorry to hear that Microsoft is pulling their classifieds product, Live Expo. Expo tried some really cool things with their product, and Oodle firmly believes in the need for continued innovation in online classifieds.

Craigslist worth $5 billion?

Henry Blodget estimated yesterday that Craigslist could be worth as much as $5 billion. While the number could be accurate, Craigslist’s plans for monetization, which involves charging more people to post their ads, is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

JohnnyC’s comment on Blodget’s story proved to be spot-on: “Free is the future of online classifieds. We have seen this with every major booming classified site in the world.”

Classifieds absolutely need to be free, but that doesn’t mean you can’t generate great revenue. As with all other forms of online advertising, you pay for increased visibility. But the fact of the matter remains that free is a proven business model, and will carry on well into the next stages of the Internet while pay-per-post revenue models will slowly dwindle away.

Classifieds: What’s Next?

Greg Sterling wrote a great post (“What Are Classifieds Today?”) after an interview with Craig (our CEO) about how the word “classifieds” doesn’t really mean much to anyone. He used the example of Craigslist and Google — to their users, Craigslist isn’t a classifieds site and Google isn’t a search engine. They are “places” to “find stuff” and “find things,” respectively.

We found these exact results when we conducted a user study a little while back. After asking a cadre of long-term Craigslist users how they described the site, only one used the term “classifieds.” We’ll delve deeper into more results from this study in upcoming posts, but the lack of the term “classifieds” elucidates an interesting development in the market: while “classifieds” as a term is not being actively used, the classifieds category is expanding quickly.

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