Dot-com refugees land at a new home
By Akweli Parker
April 23, 2005
Remember Excite, the search engine, online portal, and high-speed Internet service that perished in the great Dot-com Die-Off?
Well, some of its architects are back with a new firm, and they are using Philadelphia-area residents to test their online classified-ads service.
Oodle Inc. (www.oodle.com
) aims to save shoppers time by linking the listings of several classified and auction sites.
"I was using the newspaper, I was using eBay, I was using Craigslist, and I was astounded at how fragmented the listings were," said Craig Donato, Oodle's chief executive officer and cofounder. He ran the search and community divisions at Excite in the mid- to late-1990s, and launched Oodle this year with other Excite refugees. "You've got all these national verticals," he said, referring to specialty shopping sites for cars, electronics, books and other goods. "But classifieds are an inherently local phenomenon."
Oodle, based in San Mateo, Calif., has launched test versions of the site in Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Miami. It has been operating here since late March.
Other cities, along with a big marketing push, are coming soon. Donato said the privately owned enterprise is "well-funded" but declined to give specifics.
Where did they get the name?
"We liked Oodle because it conveys 'lots' but with fun and good connotations to it," Donato said.
"We came up with the name one night over an Italian dinner. Someone jokingly suggested the name ravioli... then noodle, and finally 'oodle' jumped to mind." It aggregates, or lumps together, local items that are for sale in several separate forums: eBay, cars.com, eWebEngine, Craigslist and Philly.com, among others. (Philly.com and cars.com are affiliated with The Inquirer.)
The site uses an "engine," the hidden software that does all the work, to go onto other Web sites, analyze their listings, and clean up the listings by spelling out common abbreviations such as "3 bedroom apartment" in place of "3BR APT."
When an Oodle user searches for, say, a used home-entertainment system, the request goes out to multiple shopping sites, with the results generally limited to those within driving distance.
The service fills a void, said Andy Beal, a vice president at Morrisville, N.C.-based online marketing firm WebSourced, Inc. and editor of the Web site Search Engine Lowdown.
Beal said Oodle's challenge would be to convince Web site operators of its benefits, such as exposure to more people than would otherwise visit their site.
Donato said Oodle did not compete with the classified or auction sites from which it draws. Rather, when an Oodle user clicks on something he likes, his browser is whisked to the site where the content originated.
"What we're doing is making it easier for buyers," Donato said. Donato said Oodle aimed to be completely advertiser-supported, although listing fees collected through partner sites might be considered in the future.
The service is free to buyers, who simply have to register and let themselves be exposed to outside advertising.
One early Oodle user was Nic Wood, a graduate student at Rutgers University-Camden.
"I'm a relatively poor graduate student, so whenever I can buy things used, I do," Wood said.
He said he used Oodle to find a television locally, and is negotiating with the seller about the price.
"Buying a TV or coffee table, I'd much rather be able to spend half an hour or whatever driving into Philly," than doing the entire transaction online, Wood said.