Some customers think the hype for Google's ( GOOG) newest product is off-base. When the search-engine giant unveiled its free listings service, Google Base, press reports proclaimed it would revolutionize classified advertising and siphon off a lucrative business from newspaper publishers. But some users say Google Base so far has failed to live up to its extravagant billing. "Google in the past has had very well-thought-out products," says Kyle Tinsley, the president of Google Base advertiser
ifreelance.com, which matches freelance professionals with companies. "This doesn't appear to be along the same lines." Indeed, Google Base is getting a cautious reception from some advertisers, who are also awaiting the launch of a rival offering from Microsoft ( MSFT). Google Base has also been hit with technical glitches and has attracted pornographic Web sites and those that redirect listings from larger companies. Google didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. But investors bullish on Google's prospects have high hopes for Google Base, says Scott Kessler, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor's who rates Google hold and doesn't own the shares. "Sometimes there is a major difference between concept and execution," he says. "I don't see anything that compelling about what the company is currently offering. It's very possible that this product could be in testing for all of next year." Monster.com ( MNST) is among the companies that plan to wait until Google proves that Google Base works. "Monster believes that associating the Monster brand with an unproven database -- even one developed by Google -- is not in the best interests of our customers at this time," says Lauren McDonald, a company spokeswoman. On the other hand, Monster rival CareerBuilder.com is providing ads to the site.
Tinsley and other advertisers such as San Francisco-based real estate broker James Wavro say that they like the idea of Google Base because it doesn't cost them anything and may offer them a chance to get added exposure for their listings. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Google Base has won their loyalty. Indeed, both Tinsley and Wavro also are going to look at Microsoft's planned service. Wavro also will continue to advertise on
craigslist, where he says he was one of the first customers. "We would never do one over the other," said Wavro in an interview. "Quite frankly, anyone that's savvy enough to afford an apartment in San Francisco is using the Internet to find housing." Google Base demonstrates that even powerful, popular companies don't immediately succeed at everything that they do. Google's other nonsearch services, including Gmail, also lag behind their competitors. The development comes as the company jockeys with rivals such as Yahoo! ( YHOO) for position in the evolving Internet advertising business. Cars.com, a cars listing site owned by six newspaper publishers, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the Google service because it isn't sure about Google's intentions, says Mitch Golub, the company's president. "It may be a good idea for Cars.com depending on the quality of the product," he says. "One of the fears that some classified partners are voicing is that Google wants to build a listings and content product." Weichert Realtors also continues to monitor the development of Google Base. "Weichert Realtors has an extremely comprehensive and progressive Internet marketing strategy and we are always looking for new ways to get more exposure for our customers' listings," said Lynda Beighley, a spokeswoman for the company, which has more than 17,000 sales associates in over 370 company-owned and franchised sales offices.
Job site jobsinthemoney.com didn't get a chance to interact with any Google employee before placing ads on Google Base, said Maria Slabaugh, the company's director of marketing. The company's ads hadn't been on the site long enough for her to gauge their effectiveness. "I am looking forward to seeing new versions of Google Base to see how they improve it,'' she said in an interview. As it exists now, the service is "not going to bring you one click away from the perfect job." Google Base may ad to the mounting woes of the newspaper industry, particularly if it can win over companies such as car dealers and realtors along with employment recruitment advertising. All of these industries are expected to boost online spending, said Peter Conti, a vice president with Borrell Associates, a research firm that monitors local media spending. The service is going to threaten some newspapers more than others. Some papers such as New York City's Village Voice already allow some people to advertise in their classified sections for free. "They may thrive, but we will continue to thrive because we have an audience that's attracted to our content, not just our classifieds," says Kara Walsh, vice president of online for the weekly newspaper. A recent review of Google Base found that four of 10 entries under the profiles category during a recent search originated from pornographic Web sites. While these ads are also found on craigslist, on that service they are separated from others with warnings about their content. Google Base's products group also features listings that appear to have been redirected by a third party to Amazon.com ( AMZN). An Amazon spokeswoman says the company has no agreement with Google Base to provide listings. ''The Google Base content is afforded legitimacy by the fact that it is Google," said Ron Baklarz, vice president of security research at Computer Associates ( CA). "Users may be duped into visiting malicious and fraudulent Web sites as they would by conducting searches through any search-engine service." Google is counting on Google Base to help it gain access to content on the Web that it wouldn't be able to get otherwise, says Greg Sterling, an analyst with the Kelsey Group. "They designed it to be a content vacuum," he says. "I don't know how you police that."