Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Jigsaw Highlights the Value of User-Maintained Business Contacts

Services such as Plaxo are handy for maintaining our own personal contact information, but when it comes to stretching beyond that domain most of us are stuck between navigating relationships in "six degrees" products such as LinkedIn or obtaining lists from business information suppliers. But what if you could chip in to a powerful database of contacts and get access to other people's contacts without having to shell out big bucks or reveal your private network? That's the concept behind Jigsaw, a service that amassed about 17,000 users and more than a million user-maintained contacts in just a few weeks, according to CNET News. Searching is free for registrants, who are given an initial "credit" of ten contacts to pick from the system. Credits can be amassed by adding contacts to the system, by maintaining contacts or via a $25 monthly fee for those not sure that they'll be chipping in a minimum of 25 contacts a month for free access. A maximum "credit line" of 300 points is in place, in their representing the number of contacts likely to be taken from the system in a year. Users can buy or sell "points" via an online community feature. Unlike other services Jigsaw encourages anonymity, providing a fungible business environment not unlike a securities exchange. This is powerful enough, but the kicker is that the sales-oriented contributors are also encouraged to provide data on contacts' companies such as revenue estimates. The theory is that it will take only a few educated guesses to come up with reasonably accurate estimates for hard-to-get numbers on private companies and the like. It's not high science, but as the database grows it may prove to be a useful approach to getting data on companies.

It will take some more momentum and contributions to build this out to a truly representative database, but it's a pretty healthy start for a fairly well designed service. There are some possible downsides to this system, to be sure. It could be that everyone gives junky contacts and data in hope of getting good content, and social databases tend to have a "sweet center" of content but get a little dodgy once content is outside of the interests of a core community. The business model is obviously in its early stages as well. But this is an excellent first pass at how individuals and institutions can take advantage of the people who are doing the most detailed research on contacts and companies: the people trying to get in to see them. With its moderated features it's a bit like a Wikipedia for business content, an omen that could turn out to be very positive in the long run. To all the business information companies I've been urging for years to take a look at how to use your users to collect quality business information, please indulge me in one brief moment of "I told you so." OK, that's enough.
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