A little while ago I got a peek at the successor to Microsoft’s classifieds marketplace "Fremont." The new site is being called "Expo" and offers a number of advancements and enhancements over the original incarnation of MSN classifieds. It was described as a "locally relevant social marketplace."
My understanding is that site won’t go live for a couple of months, which is a bit of a disappointment, but it offers some tantalizing possibilities. It’s classifieds + community + chat + maps + personalization. (The site also features local events.)
Windows Live Local maps, including Birds Eye photography, is integrated into Expo, which will be especially relevant in the apartments/homes category. Chat, a really valuable feature, requires both buyer and seller to have MSN Messenger (and could become a promotional tool for Messenger). Microsoft has also integrated Expo with MSN Spaces — you can present your listings via an icon on your Spaces blog (and there’s similar functionality for Messenger).
I was told that Expo listings would be integrated into Live Local and I asked whether the opposite would be true. That is being considered. The business model is contextual advertising from Kanoodle right now; but may include premium placement and/or Craigslist-style charging for selected verticals like Jobs.
Basic listings are free (now standard for online) and they include the ability to add images. The listings set-up process, which requires Passport registration, was pretty simple and fast.
The product will launch in the U.S. but ultimately will be global and will thus compete with eBay’s Kijiji sites. But right now Expo has more functionality. The challenge is getting the content and building the user base. But the huge installed Messenger base should jump start that process for Microsoft.
Given all the advanced capabilities and potential content richness it’s quite possible that this product could become more popular than Live Local. (There’s the beginning of a services directory.) But the opportunity for Microsoft is to integrate the two products to build a kind of "uber-local marketplace" (not very "Web 2.0" I realize), where both local business listings and classifieds information would reside.
That would create more convenience and utility for local users who don’t, generally speaking, want to go to one site for this, one site for that and five other sites for the other thing — if they can get all their needs met in a single location or destination.
For the time, the market share distribution of general Web search seems to be fixed. But local is still in its early stages and there’s still lots of opportunity. Apple has proven you don’t have to be first to market to become the market leader. So if Microsoft can build a great and complete local product it has a chance to differentiate itself and gain consumer traction, which has to date eluded it in the general search arena.