Ellis today revealed that Sensis believes its White Pages brand may have enough credibility with consumers to bear the introduction of search services linked to verifiable customer profiles of its users.
"That's the holy grail: if you can build a relationship with the user where you know what they're looking for and they've got enough trust in the brand that your data doesn't go everywhere," said Ellis.
Ellis indicated that Sensis' broad strategic intent was to use a quiver of communications services including a custom instant messaging service, Web mail and SMS to generate the user-profiles.
"We certainly have a very clear intention to have SMS, messaging and Web mail available from White Pages and from that -- providing that the user feels comfortable and they know that we run Sensis -- if they put data behind it then we may at some point be able to, with their permission, provide highly relevant search [results]," said Ellis.
User profile-based searches that draw on the White Pages directory would also give Sensis the ability to increase the value of eyeballs it delivers to advertisers.
However, Ellis said the company was aware it would need to approach the task with a "high degree of caution"; that consumers would be very nervous considering the type of user information the company can already access.
The White Pages -- aside from being one of the formidable line-up of print and online, classifieds and directory brands Sensis backing its search service with -- is based on an accurate record of residential addresses.
"One, you make an absolute promise where the data goes; two, it's your choice -- if you don't want it, don't enter it; and three, the only thing that we use this for is to help identify you and give you a better search result," said Ellis.
And according to Sensis, that's part of the reason why it ruled out the possibility of partnering with Yahoo or Microsoft on its platform. According to Ellis, Microsoft's US-centric "their way or no way" approach made them an unacceptable choice.
Ellis said he had philosophical misgivings with what he described as the "almost mandatory style" that Microsoft takes when collecting customer information through its MSN-affiliated Passport verification system.
"Quite frankly, do I want to be associated with the Microsoft brand where I'm going? -- probably not," said Ellis.
Ellis said that when it came to dealing customer information Sensis' culture was probably more in line with Linux than with Microsoft.
"If you don't like [entering your customer] information you can still use the products without it".
Sensis has given itself plenty of time work on its search personalisation strategy. Ellis said the new services were at least 12 to 18 months away.
"I must be clear that step one is to get White Pages from a successful publishing site to a communication messaging site -- step two is to then get people to give their details as they feel comfortable and then mine the data".