Google Base will get e-commerce functions

Google Base is gaining e-commerce capabilities, as Google extends this service's functionality beyond being a way to post data to its search engine index.

Google is adding e-commerce transaction capabilities to its Google Base service, providing a platform for buyers to purchase items from sellers using credit cards.

The plan is in its initial stages and only a small numberof sellers are involved, but Google plans to extend its availability over the coming months, according to a posting last Friday on the Google Base official blog (http://googlebase.blogspot.com/2006/02/buying-on-google-base.html).

Google Base, which the company has been testing publicly since November 2005, is a service designed as a funnel for users to post all kinds of content to the search engine's index.

Google Base is meant as a complement to the company's Web crawler, which goes out and indexes content from Web sites. With Google Base, users can feed the index with information the Web crawler may miss or not be able to fetch.

Since a portion of the items posted on Google Base are for sale, Google has decided to facilitate those transactions.

"To help users more easily purchase and sell Google Base items, we're planning to enable people to buy items on Google Base using their Google Accounts," wrote Google engineering manager, Chetan Patel, and product manager, Stephen Stukenborg.

Google Accounts are free and only require that users provide a valid e-mail address and a password.

A Web developer in Auckland, Sarah King, began using Google Base recently and is so far dissatisfied with the service, which she finds clunky and poorly supported and documented. She finds the e-commerce plans interesting, but isn't sure Google Base is the right place for those functionalities.

"This could be really good, taking the management and coding of transactions away from small retailers: it's a bugbear currently. But they would be better to put it into [the comparison shopping engine] Froogle and have the results in the general search engine," she wrote.

When Google Base was launched, Google went out of its way to explain that the service was aimed at users wanting to feed content to the Google index, and not at users wanting to conduct searches. Data entered on Google Base, they said at the time, would surface in the company's various search services, such as general Web search (http://www.google.com), comparison shopping (http://froogle.google.com) and local (http://local.google.com).

"We're not driving [search] users to Google Base. This content will be searchable in some way from other Google properties," a Google vice-president of product management, Salar Kamangar, told IDG in November.

However, it's not clear if this is still Google's plan for Google Base, considering the service is becoming an e-commerce platform on which transactions will take place. With the change, it seems to be morphing from a data repository designed to feed Google's search services into an online marketplace in which buyers and sellers will meet, similar in nature to eBay.

A Google spokesperson said the concept of Google Base remains the same, and declined to elaborate on the e-commerce plans beyond the blog posting. Still, King is scratching her head. "I'm confused about the actual direction of Google Base," she wrote.

The Google Base announcement is part of a larger effort from Google to seed its services, where appropriate, with online billing and payment capabilities, according to another official Google blog posting last Friday.

"Looking ahead, we want to continue building payment services that meet the needs of Google users and advertisers. We expect to add payment functionality to Google services where our users need a way to buy online," wrote product manager, Benjamin Ling, and product marketing manager, Tom Oliveri, at the official Google blog (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2006/02/update-on-payments_24.html).

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