Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Yellowikis Takes On Open Source Business Information for Consumers and Enterprises

ZDNet has a great writeup on Yellowikis, a wiki database developing open source content business listings. Yellowikis founder Paul Youlten used to work in business development at Reuters Business Information (now Factiva), so he is aware of the business information marketplace and eager to apply the lessons learned from other wiki efforts to collecting information about companies. While targeting the yellow pages industry first and foremost their home page sees their mission as being "Yellow Pages (http://www.yellowpages.com), Dun and Bradstreet (http://www.dnb.com/us/) and Hoovers rolled into one - but open, free to both companies and users, global, multilingual and a lot more ecologically friendly." When Paul's daughter had an entry into Wikipedia rejected because it was not considered encyclopedic by the peer reviewers the light bulb went off in Paul's head. No problem, instant business publishing company run on free MediaWiki software and a little grit. Business listings rejected by Wikipedia are one source of content but Yelllowikis takes in content from the public at large, focusing on the basics: company name, contact details, company profile, competitors and key categorization tools such as geographic codes, SIC codes and NAICS codes. Their focus is international and multilingual in scope, with a current emphasis on Pakistan to facilitate earthquake relief efforts in that country.

While hardly something in its current form that would cause the business information industry to quake in its boots it's a typical "first mover" project that could build momentum with amazing speed to the point that eventually there's little room for near-substitutes to develop. How many online encyclopedias like Wikipedia do you want to refer to and update - and, likewise, how many free online business listings? But a key difference in this project versus Wikipedia is that an open source business information may not attract the subject matter experts that underpin a product like Wikipedia. With so many services providing electronic business information it's not clear that the world is clamoring for yet another product that is shoehorned into the oftentimes limited capabilities of wiki software. Will a local merchant be likely to want to update this listing when they already maintain a Web site from which such information can be harvested? This project certainly points out the potential for social publishing to impact core business information markets but also the problem of starting such an effort: how do you gain enough focus in any one community of businesses to have it taken seriously? It's far more likely that other kinds of services that are not tied down to the limitations of wiki software and that have sophisticated text mining capabilities to collect information automatically are going to be able to collect basic business information that can be edited by participants, similar to the Zoominfo model for business contacts. But as a shot across the bow Yellowikis offers a compelling glimpse at the basic problems faced by database publishers who must contend with the ease and affordability of database publishing made possible by today's leading content technologies.
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