Search and the exchange model: are exchanges making a comeback?
The other day, I found a new site for food artisans to sell their wares called foodzie.com (great name!). It’s description, echoed by lots of people around the web, is that it is the “etsy” of artisan food. Etsy.com, for those who don’t know, is a place where artists can sell their hand crafted items. It is an exchange for crafts and hand made gifts and it has grown by leaps and bounds. Well foodzie is much the same thing…a place to bring the buyers and sellers of artisan foods together.
Some of my not so many readers will know that I founded a company in the early 90s (about a year before eBay) based on the exchange model. We were too early, earlier than eBay, we focused on areas that were less broad than eBay, and we didn’t execute anywhere nearly as well. But the exchange concept was a big hit and continued to be through the ensuing years. While many vertical exchanges, especially B2B ones like Chemdex.com, came crashing down, broader exchanges like eBay continued to flourish.
A few years ago I wrote a post on my personal blog about the shift in bringing buyers and sellers together that was taking place in moving from exchanges to search. The value provided by exchanges was always the bringing the buyers to the sellers. Sellers made their stuff available and buyers knew where to come and get it. Search started to change that. Just by entering the name of the thing you were seeking into google you could find people who had it to sell. You could argue that adwords and SEO replaced exchange listings as the best way to reach buyers. Vertical search engines started popping up as well…with sites like Kayak for travel and Indeed for jobs.
So with the launch of new sites like Etsy and Foodzie, does that suggest that exchanges are making a comeback? Are buyers able to find things in relevant search results or do they need aggregators in the form of exchanges to make the “stuff” they seek easily accessible.? I think the key in answering the question comes from what people feel gives them the best “search results” when they are looking for the thing…if something is unique or isn’t suited well to broader search engines results, than people will flock to the places that provide a better experience in getting to the thing they want. Sometimes that comes from providing semantic context around a search and a topic specific ranking algorithm. Sometimes that will come from leading enough vendors to set up a virtual stall in a place that draws visitors based on that aggregation. My guess is that we will ebb and flow but that both exchanges and search engines will continue to be in the mix.