It’s very general, based around the notion of ‘items’. You can take an existing item type or define your own. You can additionally tag your items, upload pictures and link to locations and URLs. As such, it can be adapted to provide reviews, or freecycle, or recipes, or… well you get the idea. It basically factorises much of the functionality of a lot of successful web services. Craigslist is the most obvious one. Dating sites are another. I’m not convinced that sites like ebay are threatened because they are specialised. They are streamlined and have particular extensions for a particular service. Everything else being equal, specialists tend to win.
What the Google base starts to feel like is actually an alternate, smarter web — abeit embryonic — with lots of nice properties: explicitly structured, easy and expressive to publish to, tidy ownership, etc.
Maybe Google is tired of trawling, caching and guessing the structure of the existing web. Why not get people to add much of the stuff directly into their databases in a clean, structured way instead? This chimes with the final paragraph:
This beta version of Google Base is another small step toward our goal, creating an online database of easily searchable, structured information.
I think the base, or the technology behind it, is a major plank down which Google plans to spread from simply organising the web to the sorting out the whole world. It connects the Google database to real-world entities.
Of course, it’s all naturally in beta whilst people get to grips with it and Google get to see how it gets used and abused. I suspect it’ll tend to reflect the balance of the rest of the web although there are bound to be a few novel uses that no-one’s thought of yet. That’s the charm of this kind of non-prescriptive approach: it turns users into creators rather than consumers.