For years after it was effectively dead, the At Hand URL still allowed access to the front door of a failed experiment. That experiment was an effort to create a nationwide, Internet Yellow Pages network.
The idea was a single online destination that would be the front door to local Yellow Pages listings drawn from a "network" consisting of Ameritech (now part of SBC), BellSouth, SBC Communications and U S WEST (now Dex Media).
According to an article that appeard in ClickZ in July, 1998, Donald J. Perozzi, then group president BellSouth Advertising & Publishing, was quoted as saying:
"The creation of the At Hand Network represents a significant advancement for the companies involved. Because of the potential of the Internet as a new medium, our customers need a place in this new space. Now, consumers have the opportunity to go to one place for comprehensive, up-to-date yellow pages information supported by four of the publishers in the industry. It is a very powerful tool for users and advertisers."
Various legal challenges and business differences undermined the Yellow Pages consortium. The consequences of the industry's inability to succeed then are clearly being felt today. One could argue that the estimated US$100 million that SBC and BellSouth paid for the URL and other assets of YellowPages.com is one of those "consequences."
On the cusp of the YPA conference in Las Vegas, John Kelsey argues that the Internet Yellow Pages industry must explore similar cooperative relationships to effectively compete in the new search-driven Internet.
It remains to be seen whether additional partners are invited to participate or buy into YellowPages.com, which would be the scenario under which a new U.S.-based IYP network could rise again. (Any other is unlikely.)
Given the competitive landscape now, it's also unlikely that anti-trust or similar legal obstacles would scuttle such an effot this time around. However, internal Yellow Pages industry competition, hesitation, a lack of focus/clarity, ambivalence about the Internet and other cultural "intangibles" are the real ostacles to the kind of IYP cooperation that might make a single, mega-IYP destination a reality.