Microsoft Corp. plans to test publicly an online classified service before the end of the year, a company representative said Wednesday.
Garry Wiseman, MSN product unit manager for Microsoft, said the company hopes to release a test version of Windows Live Classifieds to the public in the next month, with the full service going live in the first half of next year.
The service, previously code-named Fremont, is similar to the popular Craigslist Inc. classified service, he said. On Craigslist, anyone can post items for sale or available jobs, apartments or houses, as well as other services and events they'd like to broadcast to the public. In turn, users can search these products and connect with the sellers, companies or organizers directly through the service.
Some also have likened Windows Live Classifieds to Google Base, a service being tested by Google Inc. that hosts and makes searchable various types of online and offline content, such as events, job postings, products and even recipes.
Van Baker, research vice president with the Gartner Group, calls Windows Live Classifieds a "no lose" proposition for Microsoft, even though the company is entering an existing market with a host of competitors.
"Even if the market perceives this as a me-too product to Craigslist so what?" he said. "Classified ads in the newspapers are shrinking on a daily basis, more and more people are going to the Web to buy things and if Microsoft can go get a piece of that, it's a revenue source for them."
Microsoft will differentiate its service from classified sites such as Craigslist by letting users customize to whom they would like to post their own classifieds, or from whom they would like to receive classifieds. This allows them to have a trusted social network for online classified transactions, Wiseman said.
Users can post their classified listings only to buddies in their MSN Messenger list, or through e-mail users that share a common domain, such as microsoft.com, Wiseman said. They can also list postings for friends to see on their MySpaces blog, he said.
By signing into Microsoft Passport, users can get a customized classifieds page with only the listings they want to see, he said. But while customized classified browsing is possible, anyone who goes to the Windows Live Classifieds can search through listings that are public.
Microsoft also plans to "geo-tag" all of its Windows Live Classifieds listings by providing a direct link to its Live Local search service (formerly called Virtual Earth) so users can see the location of the item, job, apartment, etc., Wiseman said. Other online classifieds use this kind of location mapping mostly for apartment or housing listings, he said.
Windows Live Classifieds, like other Live services, will be supported by online advertising. Contextual ads will appear alongside listings, but will not interfere with the user experience, Wiseman said. "They will not obstruct the usability of the site," he said.