Kurt Weber (GPM, Microsoft Fremont) and Brady Forrest (PM, MSN Search) were kind enough to give me a demo this morning of Microsoft Fremont, an upcoming online, community-driven marketplace roughly similar to Craigslist.
Fremont emphasizes small scale selling to friends and acquaintances. These are easy transactions with people who have to see you again, so it makes for a friendly exchange with less risk of problems. I think it is quite likely I would prefer it over eBay, Craigslist, or selling used items at Amazon.
The goal is selling, not building up a network of friends. The social network is built implicitly from your list of IM buddies or from e-mail address groups, no fuss, no effort. Listing items is straightforward. The UI is clean and easy. It's a system you could see your grandma using.
It is impressive. They definitely have got the idea of social networking with a purpose.
I have to say, I'm surprised to see this from Microsoft. I would have expected to see this first from Yahoo as an outgrowth of Yahoo 360. Or from Amazon as some clever combination of Amazon's community features and Amazon's selling features. Or maybe from Google as an attempt to actually make Orkut useful.
Instead, Microsoft steps up to the plate. From what I've seen so far, it looks like they'll hit it out of the park.
See also my previous post, "Microsoft Fremont vs. Google Base".
Update: Three months later, Microsoft renamed Fremont to Windows Live Expo and launched it. It has no payment mechanism, so it basically feels like Craigslist with a couple social networking features thrown in. Microsoft Passport registration is required for use, something that I found to be an annoying hurdle.
In short, not as impressive as I had expected.