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Oodle joins the QVC family

It’s been a long time since we’ve posted on the Oodle blog. We’ve been quietly working on some big changes over the last year. And we’re finally ready to start sharing again…

Last year, we had the good fortune to become profitable and cash flow positive — no small feat and one that we celebrated. But we also recognized that we needed to increase our growth rate. And to do that, we needed to expand our focus and capitalize on everything we’ve learned and built around social commerce.

Today, we take a huge step in that direction. Oodle has just signed a deal to become part of the QVC family. We are thrilled and honored to be a part of their team!

No one understands social shopping better than QVC. They master a shopping experience that is truly a form of entertainment, one that’s built around serendipity and trusted storytelling. With this partnership, we can leverage our team and our social commerce platform to help elevate and evolve their online social shopping experience.

Moving forward, our users will be able to continue to use Oodle.com as their local classifieds marketplace.

We sincerely appreciate all the hard work and dedication of the Oodle team — including Brett Bullington — who helped make this happen.

Cheers!

Exciting New Features Announced at Today’s f8 Conference!

We are proud to announce that Oodle’s Marketplace is an official Facebook Preferred Developer Partner at the f8 Conference. This year’s f8 is both exciting and significant. Facebook has unveiled new features that will take sharing to a whole new level.

Facebook is a medium of shared conversations. With the new set of open graph features, Facebook is letting applications — both on and off Facebook –  add tons of texture to shared conversations. Rather than just a sparse vocabulary where you “like” a “URL”, sharing can now occur with an open ended array of verbs and objects.

Native Facebook applications (like the Photo album) have always enjoyed a more complex vocabulary to enhance sharing. Now Facebook is leveling the playing field and rolling this out to any application. As such, this is very much a natural evolution to the last two f8s: 2009 enabled apps to leverage your Facebook identity to provide richer experience,  2010 enables apps to fuel simple sharing via “like”, and with 2011 we see full-fledged sharing functionality.

This is great for consumers who get to share and interact with more interesting content. This is great for applications that can foster richer, context specific conversations.

As you might expect, we’re thrilled about fostering commerce related conversations around selling, buying, giving away, recommending and looking for things. More on that shortly!

Some TED Talks you might want to watch…

I was fortunate to attend the TED conference last week in Long Beach and saw some awe-inspiring talks. If you’re not familiar, TED (which stands for Technology, Education and Design) is a conference that gathers together leading visionaries, intellectuals, artists, experts in many fields to give great, candid talks on their work. Well produced videos of these talks are published on TED.com. If you have the time, I’d encourage you to check them out. All the videos aren’t up there yet but should be shortly. Below are my highlights from this year.

Two talks really brought out the transformative nature of the Internet to bring online communities together – one to produce revolution, the other a work of art:

  • Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al Jazeera — spoke about the historic changes occurring in the Arab world and the power of social media to empower a society.
  • Eric Whitacre — talked about his virtual choir experience – “Human beings will go to almost ANY lenghth to try to connect to each other.”  The talk isn’t posted yet but here’s a YouTube of one of the performances.

I was blow away by a few artists:

  • Sarah Kay — showed off the power, intensity and beauty of her spoken word poetry.
  • Jason Mraz — a singer-songwriter with diverse stylistic influences. He rocks.
  • Beatrice Coron — a mind-blowing papercutting artist.
  • Janet Echelmon — a whole new kind of spatial art.

Always amazing to learn about the cutting edge of science:

  • Ed Boyden — this man is a few years away from programming our brains and building The Matrix.
  • Fiorenzo Omenetto – The power to change the world (really) through the medium of silk.
  • Dr Anthony Atala – using a 3D printer for making organs.
  • Deb Roy – some crazy stuff on data visualization, acquiring human speech, and what if every moment of our lives was recorded

As well as be humbled by folks committed to changing our world

  • JR – amazing artist that uses publicly posted photography to change the way people look at their communities.  “I can’t save the world, but maybe I can change the world. Can art change the world?”
  • Salman Khan – The amazing Khan academy for online teaching.
  • Wael Ghonim — the Google executive in the middle of the Egyptian revolution.

Other talks I also love:

  • Morgan Spurlock – Funny & entertaining look at product placement & brand marketing.
  • Damon Horowitz — short personal story of philosophy & its impact on a young felon in prison.
  • Philip Zimbardo — short talk on the demise of boys

Shaking things up…

Over the last few days I’ve been reflecting on all the activity surrounding the AIM group report that we helped sponsor.  We saw some meaningful commentary as well as a lot of fall out.

I strongly feel that sponsoring and promoting the report was the right thing for us to do.   There is a serious issue in our industry – one that deserves to be talked about.  But I do regret the way the report was sensationalized.

My decision to build Oodle was and is grounded in my passionate belief that there is a better way to do classifieds.  We started the company by aggressively investing in great search and analytics.  And we’ve spent the last three years using social media to define a new experience for classifieds.

Safety has always been a central issue to us because of the inherent social nature of classifieds – the conversation starts online but ends in a face-to-face interaction.   It’s something we’ve spent a lot of time and energy addressing – and an area where we’ll continue to innovate.

We don’t, however, see much innovation happening in the rest of the classifieds industry.  Almost all the online classifieds sites out there are pretty much the same as they were a decade ago.    While that’s certainly their prerogative, the lack of innovation around safety has serious and negative repercussions for consumers.  The internet has evolved – it’s become less anonymous and more social.  So should online classifieds.

As an innovator, our intent with the report was to shake things up even if it ruffled some feathers.  The data in the report was solid and the message about the dangers of anonymity was important for people to hear. Moreover, many of these issues can be avoided with some of the innovations we’ve developed.

I regret, however, that we framed the issue as an indictment of Craigslist versus a problem that plagues our industry.   It devolved the dialogue – from a conversation about safety (and what could be done about it) to one about a cat fight in the industry.  Our intent to create awareness and dialogue became buried in the drama of the day.  That was a missed opportunity.

About the Craigslist Study

After the AIM Group study was published yesterday, we got a lot of questions and comments.  I wanted to address some of them to clear up misconceptions.

1. The numbers cited in the study are solid.

The study counted crimes that were published in local media outlets and which can be directly linked to Craigslist activity.   Indeed, by focusing only on crimes published in the press, one could argue that these numbers understate the issue.

To help provide some backing for these numbers, the study provided links to each of these published reports.  In addition to checking out these links, you can get your own feel for the size of this problem simply by searching for “craigslist” on google news.

2. The numbers cited in the study (12 murders, 330 crimes) are significant even when you take the size of Craigslist’s audience into account.

First off, let me reiterate what was mentioned in the study — these crimes aren’t Craigslist’s fault.  But 12 murders resulting from the use of one web site are significant — independent of the size of the audience.

Consumers should be made aware of the issue and what’s being done about it.  Discounting the issue simply isn’t appropriate.  Toyota took the issue of spontaneous acceleration very seriously even though it involved “only” a dozen reported deaths and arguably much more clouded causality.

3. We did have a promotional motive for sponsoring the study and clearly stated our involvement with the study in the press release and on our blog.

The study highlights a big problem in our industry, one based on conversations that start anonymously online and end in face-to-face interactions, potentially with dangerous outcomes.  This is  a problem that Oodle does a good job of addressing; and one we feel needs to be addressed.  Consumers should  know about this issue and that alternative solutions exist in the market.  That’s why we sponsored the study, and publicly acknowledged that we sponsored it.

And while the dialog on both sides of this debate may seem a bit over-the-top, it doesn’t even touch recent satire about Craigslist. Rather, this report was about publicly-available data and safety when buying and selling online.

Oodle partners with ForRent and AutoTrader (UK)

We believe that the future of online commerce is social. And by social we don’t just mean reviews and ‘like’ buttons — we mean being able to find your local companies online, talk to a real person, and see how you or your friends are connected to a particular business. This type of social commerce is bringing your online world down to the scale of your neighborhood. Instead of being this vast, anonymous place, the Internet can be friendly, scalable and social.

With these principals in mind we’re excited to announce two new partnerships — ForRent.com in the US and AutoTrader in the UK.  These partnerships will bring even more listings to our Marketplace on Oodle and Facebook, and introduce powerful social media tools to two industries that can really benefit from having a strong Facebook presence.

ForRent is the leading online apartment listings service in the US. Companies in the multifamily industry, by nature of their business, form a pretty personal part of their customers lives — people are searching for their homes after all.  Similarly, we’ve partnered with AutoTrader in the UK, where dealers will reach new customers through social media, while prospective buyers can talk to real people and compare listings with friends.

We’re very excited to begin working with these two new partners — both leaders in their respective industries.  Through these partnerships, Oodle is making online commerce a more open, social experience.

Social Commerce and the new rules for Local Businesses

Below is an article that I recently posted on TechCrunch

Ecommerce today is imbued with the same DNA that runs through Google. It’s automated. It’s algorithmic. It’s certainly not human. And the marketing campaigns that are built with this DNA are similarly data-driven. They employ number crunchers to capture their leads and build their databases, all the while looking for incremental ROI and arbitrage opportunities.

But a new marketing game has come to town — social commerce. And at its core is an entirely different bit of DNA: the DNA of Facebook. This new variety of social commerce is about conversations. It’s about relationships. It’s about re-humanizing online commerce. And for marketers to succeed with social commerce, they are going to have to rethink their game plan. Facebook has given us a brand new color palette brush set. Now, it’s up to us to figure out how to use it. I like to call this learning process “de-ecommercification.”

Succeeding with social commerce requires marketers to act human. Rather than searching for information, consumers are discovering things through trusted referrals and recommendations. Instead of being a marketing medium driven by click-through rates and lead conversion, Facebook is a medium of relationships and conversations. That is going to require some adjustments by marketers. In this new game, they are going to need to:

  • Practice the art of conversation. Social commerce is not about capturing leads and building databases. It’s about talking to people with an authentic voice, the same voice you would use if you were talking to them in person. [Remember, you're talking to your customers in the same place they use to chat with their friends.]
  • Build and deepen customer relationships. Customers are the trusted network, the community, that surrounds a business. By taking care of customers, you not only deepen those relationships, but you also fuel referrals.

It’s true that many other people in our industry besides me talk about “social commerce.”  What they are really talking about, though, is “social shopping.” For example, if you were thinking of getting a new video camera, you probably want to get recommendations from your friends about which one to buy. This is pretty cool. But it’s also very incremental. It’s social icing on the ecommerce cupcake.

Social commerce will have its biggest impact with a different set of businesses – businesses that are naturally “relationship businesses.” And these are easy to spot. They’re typically local businesses, those whose primary form of marketing has always been word-of-mouth referrals: local service providers, real estate agents, landlords, and employers.

If you’re looking for a new house cleaner, which would matter most to you: a) A half-dozen reviews from people you don’t know, b) A coupon for 10% off the cleaner’s first visit or c) Two friends that use the same cleaner, and are fans?

Or, if you’re looking for a new apartment and trying to figure out where to live, do you want lots of data on maps … or advice and recommendations from your friends and co-workers?

While social commerce is going to disruptive to local businesses, that doesn’t mean it’s going to all be about deals (at least not yet). The DNA of Groupon (despite winning the Crunchie for Best Social Commerce App) is ecommerce, and the deals its offers, which are about cost-effectively generating leads, are really ecommerce icing. In the new realm of social commerce, deals will evolve to serve a different master. They will be focused on deepening the relationships you have with your current customers, and through this end, fueling referrals.

This may sound complicated and confusing. But local businesses should get the hang of this quickly. This all very back-to-the-future stuff for them. Great local businesses have always been people-based businesses that understand the power of relationships and the importance of participating in a local community. There’s a reason the car dealer sponsors the local little league team. What these businesses haven’t yet been able to figure out is how take what they’re already doing in their local communities, and then transfer it to the new world of Facebook. But they’re learning. And when they do, it will be transformational not only for them, but also for us, their customers.

The Social Marketplace on Oodle & Facebook

Today we rolled out a bunch of new functionality both on Facebook and Oodle — to make the experience into a true social marketplace.

To date, most of the conversation around social commerce has revolved around social shopping.  We’re focused on a different area of social commerce — the social marketplace — where who you’re buying from (or selling to) matters as much as what is being bought (or sold).

Anonymous online transactions in traditional classifieds marketplaces lend themselves to bad behavior — from serious fraud and safety issues to flakey actions such as no-show meetings.    Marketplace now does a better job using Facebook to establish a user’s real identity so users can see who is on the other end of the conversation:

  • Facebook Connect hooks a user’s real identity to the listings they post.
  • When someone responds to a listing via email the other party sees who they are via their public Facebook profile.
  • Users see how they are connected to each other: through friends, mutual friends or a shared network (e.g., went to the same school, work in the same company).
  • We’re also now more clearly delineating  between postings posted directly on Marketplace (which have a Facebook identity associated) and aggregated classifieds listings found elsewhere on the Internet.

Marketplace also taps Facebook’s social graph to facilitate trading within a user’s extended community — friends, neighbors, co-workers and mutual friends:

  • Because people are motivated to help their friends, Marketplace now lets users post listings that are only visible to friends.
  • The commerce experience extends beyond buying and selling and includes giving, lending and borrowing.
  • When searching Marketplace, now users can easily share what they’re looking for, creating a social “want ad” only visible to friends.
  • A new ‘Friends’ section and weekly newsletter helps bring people together, enabling them to browse what friends and friends-of-friends have posted.

In a recent online survey commissioned by Oodle and conducted by Harris Interactive, 69 percent of American adults stated they would rather give away or share unneeded items with friends or acquaintances who would reuse them, rather than sell them online for a profit.   Moreover, when selling item,  43 percent of American adults would prefer to sell to someone they know, such as a friend or acquaintance.

Facebook Marketplace Adds Friends Tab

Today we launched the Friends Tab on Facebook Marketplace, making it even
easier to see what your friends are buying, selling — or giving away.

For example, I’m helping my cousin find a place to live in Palo Alto. Now, I can easily browse Facebook Marketplace to see which of my friends – or friends of friends -have posted a room for rent in the area. I quickly find that my friend Christine is renting out a room in her townhouse.

I also see the comment thread of questions and answers about the place, giving me
some additional background about the room.  Because I know Christine and
her husband, I feel completely at ease recommending the room to my cousin.

Christine can also feel at ease because she knows me – and knows enough about
my cousin to know that he’ll be a great fit in their home.

Oodle Taps Four Industry Veterans to Scale Growing Business

I’m very excited to welcome four industry veterans to the senior team at Oodle. Oodle is growing very quickly — we’ve seen traffic and revenue more than double in the last year. It’s wonderful to bring in a seasoned group of executives to help us step on the gas!

Tod Harmon joins us as chief financial officer (CFO).  Tod has a wealth of experience helping small companies grow. He joins us from Six Apart where he was CFO. Prior to that, Tod was CFO at HomeGain (acquired by Classified Ventures in 2005).

Jenny Rutherford has come on board as vice president of marketing for Oodle Pro. Jenny will lead our efforts to market to small businesses. She has years of experience doing just that at Intuit.

Stephen Feltner will lead our direct sales efforts as vice president of sales, focusing on the Rentals, Real Estate, Cars and Jobs categories. Stephen joins us from Move.com where he was president of their new homes and rentals business.

Charlie Engel joins us as vice president of real estate. Charlie will be working with Stephen in our efforts with the real estate industry. Charlie joins us from NCI (The Real Estate Book, Apartment Finder) where he was director of business development and national director of sales.

It’s an exciting time at Oodle and we’re continuing to hire exceptional talent to fill numerous new roles. Interested in working at Oodle? Check out our open positions here.

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