Yellowikis - A Case Study of a Web 2.0 Business, Part 1

Yellowikis - A Case Study of a Web 2.0 Business, Part 1

Summary: Continuing my series on disruptive Web 2.0 businesses, Yellowikis is an open business listings site that has the potential to shake up the Yellow Pages industry.

TOPICS: Enterprise 2.0

Continuing my series on disruptive Web 2.0 businesses, Yellowikis is an open business listings site that has the potential to shake up the Yellow Pages industry. What Wikipedia is to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Yellowikis may be to Business listings. In an email interview, Yellowikis founder Paul Youlten explained the background of Yellowikis, its business model and why he thinks it's disruptive. I'm going to run the interview over 3 posts, starting with this one.

"We didn't really set out to be disruptive - but we seem to be causing some sleepless nights among the $22bn Yellow Pages industry", said Youlten at the beginning of our exchange. "Their management consultants asked us 'Who is funding you?' and 'Why are you giving away valuable business information for nothing?' They don't understand that it has cost under $500 to set the whole thing up. And $350 of that was on t-shirts."

I asked Paul to elaborate on that. How did Yellowikis come to be and what are its plans for the future? 

It all started when Paul's 14 year old daughter, Rosa, added an article to Wikipedia about a small company she had done research on for a homework assignment. It subsequently got deleted by the Wikipedia editors because it was "non-encyclopedic". Wanting to find a place that would accept such information, Paul and his daughter then spent a couple of hours Googling for a Yellow Pages "done the wiki way", but they couldn't find one. So, as Paul explained, "we decided to set one up."

Paul Youlten used to work in business development at Reuters Business Information (now Factiva), so he's familiar with "the business of business information". He says the information in the Yellow Pages is often poor and he saw an opportunity for wikis to improve the situation, using their collaborative and open nature. 

"Setting up Yellowikis just seemed an interesting challenge", Paul wrote in one of his emails to me, "so I spent a couple of weekends struggling with Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP and actually managed to get the MediaWiki software up and running. Rosa designed a logo and we were off."

Yellowikis is still a young site, but Paul was encouraged when a couple of months ago someone he didn't know developed a Wikipedia bot that automatically transfers (or "transwikis") companies that are listed for deletion on the English Wikipedia to Yellowikis. So that's solved the problem his daughter had initially, when her Wikipedia article about a small company got rejected. There's a cliche in Web development that the best businesses come from 'scratching an itch' - in other words, building something to solve a problem you've experienced yourself. That's certainly been the case with Yellowikis!

At about the time the transwikis bot was developed, Paul noticed that his Yellowikis project was attracting the attention of management consultants from the Yellow Pages industry. Paul explained:

"They all wanted to know the same things: 1) who was funding Yellowikis and 2) what my plans to make money were. One of the leading publishing consultants for Yellow Pages in the USA asked me: "Unless you are in government development, why provide this business info for free?" Another European consultant asked "It seems a strange business model - without paid for advertising or subscribers, how are you going to make a return on your investment?"."

Paul was taken aback by these comments, because Yellowikis (like a lot of Web 2.0 businesses) was developed very cheaply, uses open source technology and relies on word-of-mouth for marketing. This means Yellowikis "can do things that traditional Yellow Pages publishers can't do" - for example adding a new language, Geo-codes, more categories. "It just happens", Paul said. 

So the low cost of running the business, together with ability to develop and release upgrades rapidly, means Yellowikis has some distinct advantages over its traditional Yellow Pages competitors. 

In Part 2 of this case study of a young Web 2.0 business, I'll outline some challenges for Yellowikis and explore further its potential to disrupt the multi-billion dollar Yellow Pages industry. In Part 3 I'll review the Web 2.0 principles that Yellowikis demonstrates.

Topic: Enterprise 2.0

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  • Trust? This is Web 2.0?

    I like the basic idea behind YelloWikis - as Mr. MacManus has pointed out, the information in the Yellow Pages is woefully inaccurate, even their online version. That being said, I don't think that a wiki format is a very good idea for this type of project. If I were a business owner, I do not hink that I would be very comfortable that any of my competitors could edit my information in this resource. It would not be very hard for Store A to edit Store B's phone number and redirect customers to Store A's phone, or the address, or anything else. Even if YelloWiki itself is cautious and prudent about this, that system to slurp information from Wikipedia would make it just as easy - drop the bogus information into Wikipedia and let it get puleld into YelloWiki. Like anything else wiki, I will not trust it as a source of credible information.

    The YellowPages are trustworthy, because 1) you need to spend money to be in there and 2) the company assembling the data has authoritative information regarding the validity of the data; the phone company knows that the address and phone number lsited by a company is correct, because they provide the phone number, and they send the bill to that address.

    That being said, this article states that this is "disruptive Web 2.0" technology. How is this "Web 2.0"? Because it uses the LAMP stack? If the outside information, such as maps were automagically pulled and displayed inline, that would be "Web 2.0". Instead I just see a bunch of links hand-coded into the site. There's nothing new about that.

    Justin James
    • What is Web2.0

      I don't like the description Web2.0 much - but there is more to it than automation and tagging. Wikis work best when they are open and inclusive and democratic. Yellowikis is all thost things.
  • Gut the Yellow Pages like a pig

    Their rates climb inexplicably year after year - they claim to add services and tout but especially when you're in a technology business many people don't have web access in the first place!

    I would love to see their house of cards tumble down.
  • Just to be clear:

    > 1) The issue of gathering sufficient data seems to be a big issue,
    > because there isn't a lot of content in Yellowikis at this point. What's
    > Yellowikis' strategy to get those 'network effects' happening, like they
    > have for Wikipedia (in a big way)?
    ...The ambition of Yellowikis isn't to be disruptive simply for the sake of being disruptive. Disruption is an effect - not a motive. Ultimately we want to be bigger and better than traditional Yellow Pages. Being better is easy the paper directories produced by traditional Yellow Pages publishers are out of date before they are printed and their internet offerings are crippled by their rigid information architectures. Right from the start we knew we were able to do a lot of things better than the traditional Yellow Pages. We are, or have the potential to be: more up-to-date, more accurate and more comprehensive - in terms of the depth of information we collect and how it is organised. We are flexible and open. Not to mention being multi-lingual and indexable by search engines. However to have real merit, to make a real difference to the way the world does business, Yellowikis must at least match the traditional Yellow Pages publishers in terms of data volume. The ambition is to be absolutely massive. Bigger than all the traditional Yellow Pages directories around the world put together.

    So how are we going to get so massive? It would be great if the network effect kicked in - and there are lots of good reasons for companies to add their own information - but I think we would be lucky to get a few hundred thousand entries this way. It could take years and it would mostly be small tech-savvy owner-managed businesses and hotels (who seem to be early adopters of Yellowikis). With no marketing but a very altruistic mission it has taken Wikipedia five years to collect 2.6million articles. We haven't done any marketing (beyond the limited edition t-shirts) and I hope we will never need to. Because one day soon, someone, somewhere will realise that they can make money from adding companies to Yellowikis. As soon as that happens and word spreads among university campuses we will see a huge jump in volume. Dick Larkin from the YPCommando Newsletter gave me the idea. He knows how much money traditional Yellow Pages publishers generate from field sales. He asked me if I had considered setting up such an sales operation. For Dick this is his bread and butter - but for me I just can't imagine any joy in managing a global network of sales people. But Dick had the right idea; the best way to grow and ensure good data quality is to attach dollar signs to the process. But we don't need to employ the sales and editing team directly. All we need to do is to encourage people to sell their wiki editing skills. They can operate as free agents or in small independent groups outside of Yellowikis. Ward Cunningham pointed out to me that the commercial imperitive has worked wonders for eBay - which shares a lot of features with wikis. Last week we added a link from our main page in English asking if anyone wanted to make money from adding companies to Yellowikis. We have got a small group of people interested and will be adding sales tips, pricing guidelines and editing advice to the site as we learn more about how people start using it to make money. We are also talking to a rural development group in India about getting it started there and to a social venture group in London too and there is a student in Poland who is thinking about selling his wiki editing and translation skills to companies in Warsaw. Not so much "Build it and they will come" but "They will pay you for building it".

    We like what Amazon are doing with mTurk - and see that as a great model for Yellowikis. Big companies like StarBucks or McDonalds with thousands of outlets might prefer to outsouce the process of adding each branch. Yellowikis would simply acts as an intermediary between big companies and people with editing skills. There is not much point in buying in lists of telephone numbers from Yellow Pages - we aren't a destination site - most people arrive at Yellowikis through Google searches. At some point in the future people might start to come to Yellowikis to do specific searches - but we will have to be pretty big before that to makes sense.

    Another thing I like about the idea of students and home workers using Yellowikis as a tool to make extra cash is that it routes round the problem of making the editing process slicker and easier. Infact there is some advantage to having a slightly "hairy" interface. Adding a company to Yellowikis takes time and effort - that is why companies will pay for someone to help them.

    2) Tagging and an open API:

    Tags: Yellowikis shares its DNA with Wikipedia so our "tags" are called "categories". A typical company listing will belong to three or four different categories. Basic categories include things like Country, USstate, NAICS - (a US government industry code), and geo codes. Last week 4 companies that had attended a particular conference added a category relating to that.

    No API: Yellowikis runs on the same MediaWiki engine that powers Wikipedia. Amazingly isn't a proper API for MediaWiki as such, just a load of code. This is quite well documented and there is an active development community - but an outward looking API would be a good thing to have for Wikipedia as much as Yellowikis. There is something called "pywikipediabot" which can do some API-like things but you need to be quite a skilled PHP hacker to do anything very interesting with it. We have a list of tech development that we need help with and one reason for getting investment would be to allow us to stop depending on volunteer efforts - which are fine but quite erratic and slow.
  • An Online book shop of India

    An online Bookshop from India with one of the biggest database for all subjects of Indian Books from major publishers of India.
    Like subjects are as.........
    Ancient History
    Art & Archeology
    Art & Craft
    Biographies & Autobiographies
    CD Titles
    Children Books
    Competitive Examinations
    Computer Crime
    Defence Studies
    Development Studies
    Dictionaries & Encyclopedias
    Drug & Narcotic Studies
    Earth Sciences
    Economics & Commerce
    Environmental Studies
    Epic Books
    Food & Nutrition
    Forensic Science
    Forestry & Wildlife
    Gender Studies
    General Books
    General Science
    Gift Books
    How to Series
    Human Rights
    Indian Polity
    Islamic Books
    Law Books & Journals
    Library Science
    Media & Mass Communication
    Medical Books
    Military Books
    Osho Books
    Philosophy & Religion
    Police Studies
    Religion & Spiritual Books
    Rural Development
    Sports & Physical Education
    The Himalayas
    Trekking & Mountaineering
    Women and Child Studies

    as manu more .....