Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jigsaw's Open Data Initative: Bait for Building Collaborative Business Information

Hats off to Jim Fowler, who has to be one of the gutsiest startup CEOs out there. Taking on the heart of the business information industry with his Jigsaw collaborative community that collects business contact and company information is one thing: personally announcing the launch of their new Open Data Initiative in a YouTube video shot on some of the more funky streets of San Francisco is quite another. It sets the scene for a very interesting move into promoting the use of Jigsaw as a service that can enable people to get high-quality contact data by giving people free access to company information.

Jigsaw has built up a base of about 450,000 people who give and take business contact information and challenge one another's submissions via the Jigsaw portal. Think of Jigsaw as Wikipedia for business contacts with far better rules and to boot a premium content model. It's a "give-to-get" model that allows people to earn credits towards getting business contact information for free if they provide enough quality information themselves but which will also charge people to see contact information if they have maxed out their quota for free contact views. On the back end of this database Jigsaw has built a tidy little business selling the information collected via their portals to enterprises and other services that need up-to-date contact and company information in their internal databases and sales automation services.

It's a good business, but the hard part has been scaling the online community to the point where Jigsaw becomes a must-visit destination that will enable them to build up information beyond the 2 million businesses and 8 million contacts already tracked in their database. Making the basic company name and address information available for free - it comes along anyway on the business contact information that people input on Jigsaw - creates a powerful endorsement for membership in Jigsaw that's likely to push its positioning as a default destination for inputting business contact information. In doing so Jigsaw may have taken a huge step forward in accelerating the growth of their database, helped along by the many key sales automation platforms that are already positioned to use content from the Open Data Initiative.

Company information is available for free elsewhere online, of course, through services such as Hoover's, ECNext's Manta portal and Zoominfo, so to some degree Jigsaw's Open Data Initiative is playing catch-up with the online positioning of other business information services. However, with the Open Data Initiative Jigsaw is making this information available in bulk form as well. That's a huge step forward in neutralizing some of the power of other services that have been building their bread and butter on filtered company lists -and a strong incentive to make Jigsaw a default plan "B" feed for company information, if not their plan "A". Major business information services, please take note: those low margins on your list services just got a bit of a challenge.

What's most interesting about the Jigsaw Open Data Initiative is its potential to increase the likelihood that Jigsaw can become a more timely source of updates for accurate business contact information both from online sources and from the many enterprise services through which Jigsaw information can be consumed, and, in theory, updated. The opportunity to make desktop and mobile sales automation and email services input points for real-time business contact updates works already in a limited fashion for services like Plaxo, but with a more serious footprint in the love-to-update-those-contacts culture of today's mobile sales forces Jigsaw may have found the accelerator that they've been looking for as they've continued to refine their offerings.

In the meantime traditional business information providers continue to be challenged on all sides by nimble competitors such as Jigsaw who are willing to view their audience as knowledgeable participants in the gathering of business information. Enterprises still move cautiously towards these new services, but as they discover that interactivity with users enables them to get more accurate content more quickly there is a tipping point approaching rapidly beyond which the Dun & Bradstreets of the world must worry mightily about the ability of their organizations and their business models to survive. There is still a powerful marketplace for quality business information, but Jigsaw challenges traditional suppliers to consider how the real-time collection capabilities of today's publishing-enabled audiences can accelerate the value of those services rapidly.
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