We keep going back to Clayton Christensen and his disruptive technology timeline … and we really don’t see that anything in the local space truly qualifies as the disruptor (although Google is worth pondering). Still, they keep coming.
The latest contender is Brownbook, the free Wiki-based directory that lets anyone submit and edit a directory listing, adding information, recommendations and ratings. The service is based in the U.K., but now has 25 million listings spanning the U.S, U.K., Canada and Australia. More than half its usage comes from the U.S. Users are free to submit listings in other countries as well.
Yellow-Wikis, the now defunct site, plowed some of the same ground in 2006. But the difference with Brownbook is that it is using the listings as an anchor for very low-priced SMB services. That makes it more like MerchantCircle and SMBLive‘s efforts with BT Tradespace.
Brownbook started with a $17 “Customize My Page” package, where businesses can claim their listing and add and order a number of features (video, photos, map, etc.). It also recently introduced a $98 “Create My Website” deal.
Founders Dave Ingram and Marc Lyne, who come from the U.K.’s Scoot directory, tell me that the service has done well already with specialized, non-local listings — an area that Angie’s List has started on as well. A hard-to-find Bi Fold Door listing in the U.K., for instance, resulted in $11,000 of business.
Ingram and Lyne calculate they would have a strong business if even a relatively small minority of listed businesses plow $120 into the page and Web site packages. And more offerings will come. They also hope to spur sales by offering a lifelong commission to users who spur sales via recommendations or reviews — an interesting concept.
Looking forward, the Brownbook people might hope to get enough mass usage going to really focus on local offerings, which will always constitute the vast majority of directory lookups. They are getting a lot of local usage via Google, where half its listings are referenced from. But at the moment, the service is not a truly local offering.
So count me intrigued. I’ll look elsewhere for my plumbing emergencies. But it will be interesting to see if this takes off.