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Facebook teams up with Oodle

Scott Duke Harris
San Jose Mercury News (MCT)

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Every time they visit Facebook, users are asked, "What are you doing right now?" And they get constant updates from friends who feel compelled to answer that question.

Now the tight economy has Facebook and a "social classifieds" startup called Oodle anticipating posts like "I'm selling my old mountain bike" or "Anyone got a secondhand laptop cheap?"

More than a decade after Craigslist, eBay and other online entities began to gobble up an ad market once dominated by newspapers, Oodle hopes to nibble at Craigslist and eBay by helping sites like Facebook and MySpace become bustling venues for buying and selling stuff.

Facebook this week turned over operation of its Marketplace application to the San Mateo, Calif.-based startup, which already has similar deals with MySpace and AOL, as well as its own destination site. An Oodle news release likens it to "a Craigslist for Facebook members.''

The recession could make for apt timing as people hunt for bargains and try to make money on the side. "People might want to buy a used car instead of a new car," said Craig Donato, a co-founder and chief executive of Oodle.

Bloggers who track Facebook have noted that most users won't notice the change, if only because Facebook Marketplace has generated so little interest since its launch in May 2007. Three months ago, Facebook announced the deal with Oodle expressly to invigorate this corner of Facebook's universe.

"Turning the development and management of Marketplace over to an innovator in online classifieds will give users more advanced ways to create and share listings on Facebook," Ethan Beard, Facebook's director of business development, said in a December news release announcing the partnership.

It is unclear if Facebook intends to use the arrangement with Oodle to generate revenue, but Oodle presumably would profit by driving traffic to its own site, where it posts paid advertisements.

Oodle's Donato told the San Jose Mercury News that the aim is to make the user experience "as lightweight and conversational as possible." Users, for example, are encouraged to explain why they are selling something, in hopes of sparking a conversation within their Facebook circle.

The revisions to Facebook Marketplace, Donato said, also invite users to donate proceeds to a designated charity by checking a box marked "sell it for a cause."

"You can think of it as a virtual garage sale for every charity on our database," Donato said. The database includes about 1.5 million charities. Once a pledged donation is fulfilled, Oodle generates a receipt to users for tax purposes.

Facebook first introduced its Marketplace application in May 2007 "as a way for Facebook users to easily create, share and respond to listings across categories such as "Furniture'' and "Roommates," the company noted in a news release. But even as Facebook grew to 175 million users worldwide, Craigslist has remained the dominant "go-to" site for such transactions.

Craigslist pioneered the free online classifieds sector in the mid-1990s. Its devotees also partake in the site's own social aspects, such as discussion groups. Craigslist, unlike many rivals, prohibits other sites from "scraping" and reposting its listings.

"Social classifieds" enhance trust, Donato said. "I don't necessarily want to buy a car from a friend. But I want to know who the person is before I invite him to my home," he said.

Oodle hopes its relationships with social networks may also attract users to its destination site at www.oodle.com, which it says aggregates more than 500,000 listings from 80,000 different sites. Oodle accepts free classified listings and, unlike Craigslist, prominently places paid advertisements from commercial entities such as car dealers.

Oodle's business relationships reach far beyond social networks. Its technology powers classifieds on sites for 200 different brands, including Wal-Mart, Washington Post Express and Military.com.

Oodle, backed by venture funding from Greylock Partners and Redpoint Venture, was founded in 2004 and launched its destination site in 2005. The company, which has about 40 employees, expects to reach profitability in the near future. "This should be our year," Donato said. "We're doing pretty well."

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