edgeio: Classifieds, and a hope for distributed community

You may think the previous post on my blog, in which I listed a propane fireplace for sale, was a little bit strange. In fact, there’s another reason for it besides my desire to sell the fireplace (after all, I’ve already paid to post it for sale elsewhere). The ad was also my first test of the new distributed classifieds service edgeio.

Edgeio

Edgeio is still in beta, so you’ll need a password to check out the site. But without visiting it, you’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s not only a great new web-based classifieds service, it’s also a promosing hope for the future of distributed content and community on the web.

So that’s what makes edgeio so exciting, but what makes it tick? Simple. Instead of the ebay model, where you create a separate account, a separate identity, and sell your listings on their site, in their market, edgeio makes all of the web a market. Rather than posting an ad for sale on edgeio, you write a blog post listing your item, service, or job opening. Tag it with “listing” and other keywords, and edgeio reads your RSS feed and automatically lists your item. In my first test today, my listing- including the image I posted on it- appeared on edgeio within a few minutes.

After it appears, you can enhance your listing with graphics, keywords, by claiming it. The point is that while edgeio is a convenient place to search for and view items in context, the actual item itself is generated from within your own central place on the web.

Behind the simplicity of this difference lurks another tremendous benefit: identity.

When I create an item from my homepage, it is originating from my virtual “home” online, rather than from a username with no easily identifiable connection to its owner. Edgeio’s innovative approach to this identity system is not by accident, either. Updating your profile on the site allows you to specificy your Flickr, eBay, and LinkedIn ID’s, suggesting they plan to make identity a top priority on their service. Even it if was merely a focus, it would be a powerful step in the right direction.

I think Edgeio’s distributed content model will become increasingly popular over the next year as identity and attention gain traction, even it occurs at the nearly subconscious level as it has been so far. It’s already sort of happened to me, and I think others. If you’ve heard of a site called Squidoo, you might recall that it launched to some fanfare last year. The service describes itself as a “platform for meaning”, which means it’s a site where users go to post expert opinions and guidance on a huge array of topics. When it was released, I thought of it as an “About.com for Web 2.0” because it allowed anybody to share their knowledge and even earn money for the hits they generated.

In my view though, despite some praise for it, the service ultimately failed to catch on due to a reason I read on a few blogs. Micropersuasion’s Steve Rubel captured the sentiment when he wrote “I really don’t see what the big deal is about this product. I tried it during the private beta and found it very confusing. I recommend having your own blog instead.” What Steve’s saying hints at this underlying apprehension among people who publish online: Why do I need to make a new account and join an entirely new community just to share another bit?

If it sounds like a whine, it’s not, and it’s going to become more articulate in the near term. The idea that as we become more comfortable publishing online, and as online publishing provides a simple means for broadcasting a wider variety of things, that we should continue to fracture and splinter off into increasingly walled communities simply does not fit in with the new direction that online communities are moving towards.

The concept of distributed content pulled together using existing, non-disruptive technologies (RSS, tags) even has the potential to stop other popular movements in their tracks. Here, I’m thinking specifically of user-generated news sites such as Digg and Newsvine.

Last fall, I practically begged Newsvine co-founder Mike Davidson for a beta invite because I was earnestly excited at the concept of a news site that, like Digg, was determined largely by user votes and comments but that covered everything imaginable beyond tech. It’s still a huge step for news to take, and although I’ve registered a complaint I’m more convinced than ever that the site is not only needed, but wanted by smart readers who want to help shape news for the better for themselves and others.

But now, having thought about edgeio’s approach, I am wondering how much more powerful a site like Newsvine or Digg could be if they allowed me to write a blog post, tag it ‘fornewsvine’, and have it automatically appear under my name on their site.

It’s not an impossible dream. It’s a probability, with the next generation of online services, if edgeio’s approach begins to pay off. I’m betting it will.