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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 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, 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.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. The issue as to whether can become the preeminent property, with a vast database of business listings including Real and Smart, is less an issue of infrastructure, sales, reach and capitalization, and more an issue concerning *user adoption*.

    Can Yellow sell ads with its vast unionized multi-state sales channel? Yes.
    Can it effectively grow its revenue in the coming years? Yes.
    Does it have staying power? This to me is much less certain.

    Ultimately, ad dollars, including those of SME's will *follow eyeballs*. We have long believed that Yellow lacked a sufficient user base in most geo-vertical categories, which was not advantageous in the face of low consumer adoption and a finite SME budget relative to other inventory types.

    So how can Yellow acquire the user? Change.

    Change in a manner that incorporates the *demands of the local search user*. You know, pure sure, meta content, reviews, ratings, rich mapping, proximity scoring, and vertical depth.

    The user is currently demanding that local results sets are less ads and more *answers*, based upon relevancy. Solving this information architecture balance of ads and answers is not something the Yellow is accustom to. And the SEs will outpace the IYPs including Yellow in usage over the coming years, unless the *utility* Yellow's business search environment changes. Whether Yellow realizes it or not, the local business searcher is currently being reconditioned. They are being reconditioned away from flat static business listings, to rich buying decision data.

    The central question concerning the viability of Yellow to consolidate the iyp industry under a single, consolidated environment on-line has very little to do with its current comparative advantages and everything to do with its current comparative disadvantages.

    And whether a 32 yr CEO will have the vision to change his company’s focus from just sales, to incorporate better technology, in order to facilitate for consumer adoption for long-term staying power, in my opinion very much unknown. Personally, I have an inclination to the answer….
    For the time being Yellow's sales are growing. In fact, they are setting records. This is happening at a time when reseller channels are being shunned in favor of what will be a national, unionized, feet on the street sales base. The strategy will work for the short-term. But utility and eyeballs in the end will determine the winners and users, not current sales numbers on the back of an ignorant customer base.

  2. Agree that you pose an important question.

    One side is advertising, the other consumer focus. There's no question re the advertiser orientation. You're raising the other point and whether it can compete in an incredibly competitive landscape.

    They would, I'm sure, argue that's what this is all about: competing for destination traffic and consumer usage.

  3. >>But on the other side of the equation, are there potential dangers if the product is re-defined too broadly.

    Yes there are dangers. In fact, I would argue the simplier the better. And YellowPage's model is simple (or at least it was prior to having to fold in real and smart). Therefore it is, and remains sellable. Simple plus brand plus foot soldiers are Yellow's comparative advantages.

    But even with a sales model that is ripe for today's marketplace, one must wonder how long the property can survice due to its ineffectiveness for searcher/users who demand more than category driven ad results.

    The new guys at Yellow are really nice and talented guys. The *older* (previous) mgt team is gone. And there is little doubt in my mind that the new team made of Real and Smart folks is in position to grow sales. That is great. There are not many others that have solved the sales equation like this team has.

    The question that I raise is whether Yellow has the vision as a technology and search company – not just a sales company, so that the product they sell can neatly scale while providing benefit to their advertisers.

    I hope they can do it ~ they certainly have the opportunity to.

  4. At the core of some of your comments, as we discussed at SES, is: what is the product? Does YP as a product have sufficient breadth to appeal to consumers (esp. younger users). Or, can it compete in its present form if it's used infrequently compared with search?

    The definition of the next generation product is fundamental to its potential longevity with consumers — it seems to me. So some expansion (or at least much-enhanced functionality) is required.

    But on the other side of the equation, are there potential dangers if the product is re-defined too broadly. The value-proposition for advertisers could be diluted:

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