What's For Sale? Check Facebook

Facebook's marketplace i i

Facebook's new marketplace forum allows people to sell items, give them away, ask for an item or sell an item with the proceeds going to a nonprofit. Courtesy of Facebook hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Facebook
Facebook's marketplace

Facebook's new marketplace forum allows people to sell items, give them away, ask for an item or sell an item with the proceeds going to a nonprofit.

Courtesy of Facebook
Facebook causes i i

There are dozens of causes that people can contribute to through Facebook's new marketplace forum. hide caption

itoggle caption
Facebook causes

There are dozens of causes that people can contribute to through Facebook's new marketplace forum.

The social-networking juggernaut Facebook is out to change online classified ads, turning what are often flat and anonymous listings into something personal, interactive and social.

In the process, the Facebook marketplace could raise millions of dollars for charity.

Facebook first launched an online classified ad site nearly two years ago, but it didn't catch on. Today, when most people think of online classifieds, they think of craigslist or perhaps the local newspaper's Web site.

Craigslist alone brings in tens of millions of dollars, and analysts say it could bring in much more. Facebook views that market as a potentially new and sizeable revenue stream. It's especially attractive because Facebook, though wildly popular, doesn't turn a profit.

The company's new approach to classified ads is like Facebook itself — social and interactive. A company called Oodle designed the site and will manage it.

The software application allows you to easily sell something, give it away, ask for something or sell an item with the proceeds going to a nonprofit.

Craig Donato, Oodle's CEO, says in addition to the basic information about a transaction, classified users are asked why they are buying or selling.

"We ask why — because why people do things, why they pick a charity, is interesting to folks and again, we want to make this conversational and interesting and simply fun," he says.

The nearly 175 million Facebook users can send their posts to online friends as part of their news feed. Listings come with the seller's profile and visitors can write on the "wall" and ask questions or add comments such as, "I have a bike like this, and it's great" or "Does anyone know how much this weighs?"

And if someone is interested in donating to charity, they can find out what items are being "sold for a cause," that is, items from sellers who have agreed to donate their profits to participating charities.

Josh Bernoff, a senior analyst at Forrester Research and co-author of the book Groundswell, suggests it makes sense for the Internet giant to try to turn classified ads into something bigger and potentially more useful.

"Anytime a site with that many users gets into any kind of economic activity it's a big deal," he says. "You are absolutely going to see interest in this."

Facebook member Jason Yiin has already checked out a number of online posts and likes the chatty aspect of the new classifieds. For example, he learned that one of his friends was interested in buying a book on poker: "I didn't even know he liked poker and I like poker, so I was telling him we should definitely get together and play some poker some time," he says.

After Yiin posted a for-sale notice for a video card to benefit Kiva, a micro-lending organization, he was approached by a friend who wanted to know more about the nonprofit group.

Bernoff suggests buyers and sellers might turn to Facebook's new marketplace for reasons other than its charity and social aspects: "On Facebook you know who you are dealing with — these are not just random people, they are your friends."

He says this may result in more confidence and trust in a transaction. But there is no built-in electronic payment system, like PayPal, so there is no guarantee that individuals promising to donate proceeds to charity will follow through.

Patrick Rooney, the interim executive director of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, says Facebook's linkage to charitable giving is intriguing and raises the possibility that young people, who traditionally don't give to charity, will be motivated to buy and sell for a cause.

Site promoters note that more than $3 billion would be raised if each of Facebook's users sold a single item for $25 and donated the proceeds to a nonprofit.

Analysts say in this economy, more and more people are using classified ads. The big question for Facebook is how well can it capitalize on that trend.

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