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Could You Be a LinkedIn for Product Information?

A young Canadian company called Hubba is making waves internationally with its goal to become the “single source of truth” for product information. Described simply, they’d like every company with products to post and maintain their product information in their database so that everyone who needs that product information (retailers, wholesalers, online merchants) can find it in one place, in one format, and with the knowledge that it is always the most current information available.

Ambitious? You bet. But the company, only founded in 2013, has taken on over $45 million in investment. As importantly, there are signs of market traction: 10,000 customers have already listed over 1 million products on the service. The company’s founder described Hubba as “a little bit like LinkedIn for products.”

Organizing product information is no small challenge. Most companies of any size struggle just to keep their own product information organized and current. And product information is a nightmare for those who sell products. The work involved in finding and accessing current product specifications, images and brochures is slow, painful and never-ending. And good product information isn’t only in the interest of the retailer; manufacturers increasingly see the value of consistent, accurate and attractive presentation of their products across the web.

Somewhat surprisingly, this isn’t an entirely new idea. Indeed, it’s an application model we call “Central Catalogs” in our business information framework. The first company I found doing this was working in the audio-visual equipment industry. Currently called AV-IQ (and recently acquired by NewBay Media), the site lets manufacturers centralize all their product information for the benefit of their retailers.

Another company called EdgeNet performs a similar service in the hardware market. And there are others with slightly varying models. Some see themselves as content syndicators, pushing product information out to the world. Some are built on closed networks. But to date, given the scale of the challenge, most services limit themselves to a single vertical. While Hubba is currently tackling just a few verticals, it’s clearly positioning itself to become the central product information repository for everything.

Hubba isn’t just notable for its ambition. It’s also adopted a freemium model that makes it a small decision for a manufacturer to participate. And consider too how far this company has come in just three years with an offering that’s good, but in a category that certainly isn’t new. That’s Internet speed for you!

Central catalog opportunities belong naturally to companies in the center of their markets, particularly those that are data-savvy. Having a neutral market position is critical too, because product information gets political very quickly. It remains to be seen how Hubba evolves, but in the meantime, vertical market central catalog opportunities abound, and data publishers in vertical markets are the best positioned players to take advantage of these opportunities.