I've been thinking a bit about Google and MSN's recent entry into the classifieds space. Not quite long enough to pen a Fourth Estate article yet - but long enough to share a few paragraphs with you.
Classifieds is a hideously archaic word. It conjures up reams of yellowing newspaper pages of short form motoring, employment and personals ads. But the essence is clear - it is a media platform to help people buy and sell. Although Google Base addresses part of that equation - the new service from the Search giant is more about capturing data from consumers in a highly structured way. Sure, that will ultimately mean better indexing and higher search results for your classified entries - but in the short term I can't see the service doing much to help you shift your sofa, sell your car, or find a job.
MSN's approach - codenamed Fremont - is a bit different and is particularly interesting from a consumer standpoint. By integrating with the MSN messenger service and their various mapping products, you will be able to broadcast your desire to buy and sell to a highly targeted group of people you either know or live close to. That could be a killer app.
It also relates closely to a theory I have been toying with for some time - the emergence of RSS based personal broadcast engines - which will allow consumer to create a single profile with their lifestyle preferences, personal and professional backgrounds, and marketplace items. With millions of personal feeds in place, search technology can then effortlessly bridge the liquidity gap and create marketplaces of relevant consumers.