Google Automat to Spew Classifieds?

Google’s rumored classifieds service is not only in the works, it’s patent-pending, according to analyst firm Classified Intelligence.

Analyst John Zappe discovered the patent application, which includes screen shots for Google Purchases and, as well as an interface for posting classified ads.

Zappe said the program, tentatively called Google Automat, is a system for letting novice sellers develop and post classified ads that can be accessed through search and also placed on other Web sites as Google AdSense ads.

A key component would be Google’s ability to upsell classified ads, according to Peter Zollman, executive editor of the Classified Intelligence Report. “The way you make money with free classifieds is through add-on services,” he told “Google will be able to offer contextual advertising next to the classifieds but also, they could give you the option of paying more to have it displayed at the top of the list or with pictures or something like that.”

The service would likely make use of Google Base, the online database that briefly went live on October 26. After a user entered information about the product or service, Automat could generate either a standalone Web page with the merchandise information or a text ad.

Automat also includes a mechanism for a variety of ways of paying for the ad. “We see advertisers — consumers and businesses — opening Google Purchase accounts, which can automatically debit regular banking accounts as the advertising campaign progresses,” Zappe wrote.

An image of the Google Purchases sign-up form includes spaces for users to enter their credit card and phone numbers. Classified Intelligence speculates that Google Purchases also could be used as the payment mechanism for consumer-to-business online transactions.

Zappe called Automat “a brilliant tool to attract casual sellers and small, traditional businesses who, up to now, have mostly avoided keyword advertising.” In September, Classified Intelligence said that Google was soliciting direct feeds of listings from publishers of, among other things, job postings.

Both Google Base and Google Classifieds foreshadow a movement by Google toward generating proprietary content. According to Zappe, Automat ties up one loose end: how Google can make money off free listings.

Zollman emphasized that his company’s analysis is speculative. “A patent application doesn’t mean they’re going to get a patent, or that anyone will release what’s covered in the application,” he said.

Nevertheless, he added, “They’re certainly planning for an all-out assault on classified advertising. They have made that clear with the URL, among other things.”

Google’s entry into the market would be disruptive for newspapers, eBay and craigslist, among many other online classifieds sites, Zollman said. “It’s disruptive, even if they don’t. People in the business now have to assume that Google is coming at them full force.”

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