The rise of the marketplace … again?

The marketplace, a crossroads?
The marketplace, a crossroads?

No one will argue as of 2010 ThomasNet has survived the cross-over to a web-based directory service. No simple feat!

However, even though ThomasNet has thousands of advertisers and users, but it was never leveraged into a marketplace.

(Of course a lot of dot-com B2B marketplaces have come and gone, showing that this may have just been shrewd experience showing.)

I never noticed this lack of a marketplace service until I received an email yesterday announcing a partnership between ThomasNet and marketplace website Ketera.

Not knowing much about Ketera, I googled a bit and found a commentary at discussing the rise of marketplaces,, and here in 2010.

About ThomasNet’s new partnership they wrote:

Our cursory research suggests that there was material thought put into this relationship and approach. If it proves successful, it will be an example of a clear win/win for both Ketera buy-side and Thomas sell-side customers. … Still, given that Ketera has focused historically on indirect materials trading enablement, the direct materials flavor of the Thomas deal should help broaden its providers’ overall sourcing appeal if they can get additional manufacturers to sign on the buy-side dotted line.

So the pressure is on Ketera to make this work. Maybe ThomasNet is continuing to show their smarts by adding value to their advertisers with no cost or real risk. Isn’t that what “win/win” partnerships are about, usually?

How does Ketera work? They are a business directory, but you can also select companies to send anonymous RFPs (requests for proposals) in a competitive atmosphere, or even run a *ugh* reverse auction. Judging by the picture of a boat on their home page, I’d say they were trying to specialize in transportation services and other commodities where excess capacity can be bought and sold.

These ‘soft’ products are way different than the variety of hardware the average ThomasNet advertiser has to offer. Industrial hardware (and services) is very specification specific, and I have not seen an formal RFP yet that hasn’t made my eyes roll because it so poorly codifies the actual need. For one-off purchases like I sell, I don’t think it makes sense. seems to have found a sweet-spot of materials services (tool-and-die, fabrication) that can be bid more easily by RFP, and buyers have ongoing needs that make the marketplace attractive.

Ariba Discovery has a long way to go yet. It looks more like ThomasNet with an RFP button next to each listing. Their search results showed just 45 active public RFPs.

Ready for the Marketplace?

Or should I say, is the marketplace ready for your industry? Or is the online marketplace ready for primetime, even in 2010?