Gets It

Last year I was asked to address an annual meeting of senior executives in the yellow pages business (I ended up doing two more after that, in fact). They were a bit concerned about Google, Yahoo, and Web 2 in general. Was their business imperiled? Ummm….yeah, I told them….


Last year I was asked to address an annual meeting of senior executives in the yellow pages business (I ended up doing two more after that, in fact). They were a bit concerned about Google, Yahoo, and Web 2 in general. Was their business imperiled?

Ummm….yeah, I told them. But they had the resources to address it. Among the recommendations I made to them was one I thought deeply obvious – let your readers/users on your online services rate the merchants, and use those ratings to start a conversation with your merchants that helped them turn all their businesses into conversations – I argued that with search, all business is a conversation, and only those who could engage would win in the end. They had thousands of sales reps on the street – train them to help merchants engage with audiences online.

I was struck by the response – one exec raised his hand and said, and I paraphrase – “You’re asking me to tell my advertisers to invite criticism? You’re asking me to actually create a platform that lets that criticism happen? Are you nuts?”

General nodding and murmurs of assent followed.

“Er…yes,” I answered. “Yahoo already does. And Google does too (though not as well….). You better also, or you’re…well…toast.”

Well. Imagine my surprise to read this news.

YELLOWPAGES.COM ( ), a subsidiary of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) , today announced it has rolled out User Reviews to its national site, enabling consumers to share opinions on local and national businesses from caterers and pool cleaners to jewelers and pet groomers.

Wow. I get the sense that you were listening,! Thanks!

21 thoughts on “ Gets It”

  1. Does John get it?

    Your advice to Yellow Pages was sound ‘only those who could engage would win in the end’. Well, John have you gone shy on us engaging in rating your thoughts? Our Coning (thinking hierarchy algorithms) have ranked you against other pros:

    Michelle Mal 65.5%
    Adriana Huff 82%
    Marcos Moul 70.75%
    John Battelle 74.25%

    We’re really looking forward to your end piece on Conversational Media.

  2. will need a lot more than an openness to criticism based on experiences of a new client and their dismal value proposition:

    They have a very high flat fee pricing structure ($500/mmonth for this small business) and a very low market share (their 7% is a small fraction of either Google or Yahoo) in a largely pay for performance industry.

    In either case my client is attempting to cancel their annual service contract lock-in which is also at odds with a no-contract industry because they have received zero traffic after three months.

    They have nothing to sell and are selling it at a premium price with no performance

  3. Your advice was sound, of course.

    But, I find it incredible that this took them so long to do. Welcome to 2004 yellow pages.

    Elephants are born in less time than their product features. Meantime, in BellSouth’s home market of Atlanta has 75,000 reviews. Embarrassing.

  4. In addition to Yelp as Mike mentioned, has been doing this for over a year as well. And, if you count Judy’s Book as a type of IYP, they’ve founded their entire biz model on the value of user ratings/endoresments. So, is playing a bit of catch-up, as Greg Sterling has mentioned.

    {disclosure: I work for Superpages, though herein I’m only writing my own opinions and no official stance of my company.}

    Search engines have been turning lots of internet sites’ business models on their heads a bit. The sheer convenience and usability that you wrote of in The Search has driven users increasingly straight to Google to find any info, including biz info. Google’s own dev efforts in this respect (they recently increased the size of the OneBox at the top of their SERPs for local searches) are also going to impact IYPs.

    I think your advice is good, though: IYPs and vertical directories sites will need to focus more on building basic business information, instead of owning the search piece of the puzzle.

  5. Sorry John, we also love a good hoax like Time Cube, Piltdown Man and Chariots of the Gods, but Coning Tech is building a business using NLP and thinking hierarchies within text, common to most written languages. Our algorithms work out the amount of background, analysis and judgement folks use to get across a point of view. So Coning is a measure of efficiency at document level and allows the user to find the thinking type at paragraph level. And so we can compare and rank writing across genres.

  6. could ‘engage’ but still not win in the end.
    It’s about who can get the most traction with consumers and businesses alike.

    There’s a ton of players in the review space including Yelp and Superpages, but I think the changes within Judy’s Book and InsiderPages should not be overlooked.

    I work for MerchantCircle, who’s been the only consistent player on the business side. Over 85,000 business owners have signed on and joined the network in just 8 months. The proliferation of reviews is great, but business owners need a voice as well and a chance to control the content.

  7. Silver and KevinL are right.

    Where’s the effort to build meaningful business information? The online YPs are so thin in detail it’s a joke. A “high consideration decision” requires depth and the ability to compare.

    As for reviews, great. It’s price of entry stuff.

    The power comes from a critical mass of both business and consumer content. I come back to in Atlanta. It’s the only site that’s done both in a meaningful way.

    Now, whether they can efficiently replicate this nationally is a fair question. But Judy’s Book and Yelp? Spare me the hype.

  8. Yellow Pages and search engines both need to provide more useful data in a structured way – something as basic as the opening hours for local shops and businesses would be a good start. Why should I need to make phone calls to find out opening hours when planning a trip near the start or end of the business day?

    Some way of providing this and other basic information as structured metadata, which can then be gathered by search engines and yellow pages alike, would be a good start. Not very Web 2.0, more Semantic Web, but very useful all the same. Many local businesses in the UK still don’t have a web presence, so Yellow Pages isn’t going to go away.

  9. Damn, John! A couple of minutes of stand-up and you got them to “get reviews”? Come out for an encore and get them to focus on RELEVANT SEARCH RESULTS. How about if I type in “Paintball in Denver, CO” and get more than 2 results in or worse if I do the same in some other YP engines and they ask me, “Do I mean ‘Paintball Sports’ or ‘Paintball Supplies’?” Like I should be telling the engine what arbitrary business category it should be looking in.

  10. Yup, The yellow pages industry could sure learn a lot from Yelp and co. Actually, there are a handful of other sites that do local searches. And the point really here is that aside from being open for user reviews and user submissions, it’s local. Some sites are even more local-centric than the bigger ones. One example is They focus only on select cities where they actually have one or several moderators working full time to make sure things run smoothly (and filter out possibly nasty stuff that comes about with most sites that accept user-generated content). The business model for helping people find establishments is changing fast!

  11. Last week the yellow pages book was delivered to my house. Happened to be that I just took the recycle trash out that morning. Needless to say the yellow pages book never made it to the home and was sent directly to recycle.
    Now would I go to if I needed local information? I guess I can be converted but at the moment, there are other services for local info that are much better.

  12. has many ratings, but they are smart in issuing this disclaimer: “Many of the business listings and other materials available on this site are posted by third-party advertisers. We cannot and do not review every business listing or posting made in other areas available for public postings. Nor do we take steps to confirm the accuracy of any listings or postings submitted by advertisers or other third parties. You may well read any given listing or posting before anyone on our staff does. Take what you find with a grain of salt. We do not endorse or guarantee the accuracy of any listing or posting. There is no substitute for healthy skepticism and your own good judgment.”

    I have yet to see online ratings or reviews that could not be scammed. John, if you or anyone knows of a “fool proof” system please let me know who has it. Amazon and TripAdvisor workd hard at it, but even some of their reviews can be viewed with a “healthy skepticism”.

  13. Afterthought = Even “Zero Torerance” stances by TripAdvisor that back up that policy with justified threats like these don’t guarantee the consumer that some fake reviews won’t get through:
    “Very rarely, we will encounter a review that violates our review guidelines. We have made, and continue to make, significant investments in maintaining the integrity of our reviews. If we detect a fake review, we:
    Remove the review(s) immediately from the site.
    Take steps to ensure that the property in question will be penalized in our rankings.
    May post a message on the site at the offending property, alerting our millions of travelers that we have found a fake review.”

  14. Reviews aren’t worth much. Break businesses down into 4 categories:

    1) convenience stores, service stations, etc. What’s a review going to do for them? Who’s going to read them?

    2) chain stores and many franchises. Starbucks, Wendy’s, Target, McDonald’s, Wal-Mart. Practically everything is done by the headquarters on policies. May be some variance on friendliness/surliness of staff or bathroom cleanliness. Again, what good are reviews?

    3) businesses that generally won’t work with the public directly. For Valentine’s Day, my wife had the electrician who did our basement remodel re-wire our garage, which was built in 1914. Todd drives a white truck, doesn’t have signs on it and doesn’t advertise. I don’t think he has business cards. He did the work because of the existing relationship that was through the general contractor. There’s a lot of “not open to the public businesses”. I can’t imagine them manufacturer A reviewing supplier B or general contractor X reviewing electrician Y anywhere, let alone a public place. Could happen, I guess.

    4) Everybody else. Hair stylists, real estate agents, dentists, attorneys, small shops. The problem with reviews is that people tend to have very individual reactions to these. A friend recommended a real estate agent that I don’t think did a very good job for me. We had specific requirements and a lot of houses we looked at didn’t meet those requirements. I’d give her a negative recommendation. A while back, the friend settled in Switzerland and asked the agent to sell her house. She’d continue to give the agent a high recommendation.

    Would you recommend her if you used her? Maybe. But there’s obviously a high degree of variance in services. Amazon reviews work because we all get the same phone or book or whatever. You don’t have the personal relationship with somebody from Braun or Motorola or Sony.

    In my day job, we do take recommendations and it goes something like this:

    1/3rd or more are the owners giving themselves positive reviews.

    1/6th are people with a serious grudge. Some of them sound like they have good cause, some not.

    1/3rd are OK.

    1/6th are incoherent or spam

    For things like restaurants, I’ll trust professionals more than the average person or even a lot of average people. That the reviewers love the owners doesn’t mean the food is good. Even there, it’s nice to have multiple pros so you can filter out the cattiness or preoccupation with the latest and greatest. If I ate out every day, my priorities would be different than being with the wife and kids or twice-a-month “date nights” with my wife. We look for something different than they yelp’rs.

  15. Hi John, over the past several years a few business owners that I know have posted ads with the local Yellow Pages and other online. These ads where very expensive like traditional Yellow ads, but drove not one single lead. Each company had a local specialty that made them a unique offering.

    It would be interesting to hear how these sites actually drive traffic. Especially if they have an offering that could be compelling for search engines or other local media.


    -Aaron Shear

  16. BT (the UK telecom giant) looks to be doing something rather more than just mere ratings with although evidently has much the same aim in mind.

    Still clunky, bit rough round the edges and a declared beta. But it has blogs, podcasts, flickr-type photo uploading, ratings. It all has obvious search benefits for traders and maybe a boost for small businesses. Time will tell.

  17. With all of the techknolligey available.Why is it I haVE TO BE A COMPUTOR EXPERT JUST TO FIND A TELLEPHONE NUMBERR IN CHICAGO. HSBC BANK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *