November 16, 2005

Yellowikis

Aparently there's a wiki yellow pages for company information getting some publicity.

I have a personal interest here. I wrote a company registry module for Infoconomy back in 2000 (that site's running on Philip Greenspun's ACS). It was a good old-fashioned bit of relational modeling, handling international companies with HQs in different countries and multiple branches, categorization, partner and competitor relations etc.

When the site went live, the module was left out. No one, me included, could imagine that they'd launch with the small amount (around 50 companies skeletons, maybe 20 full profiles) of test data that had been entered during development. But researching, writing and entering the data was expensive. And this was a small startup magazine with a few journalists who realized that completing the catalogue was more work than they could handle.

Five years later, Infoconomy, and the CRM system (built by my friends on top of the ACS) seem to be still going strong. But, unless the company registry is hidden behind the subscription firewall, I don't think this feature ever did make it. Yellow-pages represent a great deal of work.

Can a wiki supplant that?

Here's what's good about a wiki. It's cheap. No one has to pay me to write a custom database application. If I was advising anyone who thought of building this kind of application, I'd start with a wiki as an internal prototype of the registry. I'd get them entering the data into wiki pages with some simple markup that could be scraped later.

I'm not quite prepared to stick my neck out and say I think Yellowikis will disrupt the yellow-pages industry. But I'd like to see it try.
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