A Wikipedia for SMBs? It’s Already Here

In a guest post from late last week on VentureBeat, entrepreneur Mark Goldenson says the following:

Wikipedia has destroyed the paper encyclopedia without hiring one sales agent. Alexander Bell couldn’t have foreseen that people would spend millions of hours writing 8,000 words about the Undertaker for free. While Wikipedia is great for general information, it includes almost none of the business directory information that is more valuable. Yelp, YP.com, and CitySearch offer some basic details or user editing, but either focus on reviews or don’t have deep details.

What’s needed is a Wikipedia for small businesses. Provisionally called ShopStop, it would be a public wiki that lets anyone create a website about a business and add a wealth of information . . . (emphasis added)

In calling for a “Wikipedia for small businesses,” it appears that Goldenson hasn’t been paying close attention to the local space. There are already a number of versions of this in the market:

In addition Yahoo! Local and Google Maps have for some time allowed users to edit and enhance listings, so they would fall on this list as well for purposes of this conversation.

Goldenson proposes a startup “ShopStop” to realize his vision of a wiki-directory. He says, “Executed well, ShopStop could kill the yellow pages for good.” Beyond the fact that this statement is simplistic and inaccurate, Goldenson fails to address the central challenge with his model and answer the question: what incentive would consumers have to populate a wiki-directory?

In addition, the “brands” in the local space, Yelp, Citysearch, etc., would not be supplanted by a wiki-directory. Only over a several-year time frame might such a project gain sufficient momentum and exposure to be of value to consumers (via search chiefly). And what about the business model? Low cost structure and geotargeted ads from networks? Enhanced features/services for SMBs who claim their listings? That’s Brownbook. (Insert familiar discussion re SMBs and self-service here.)

Indeed, Brownbook has some good traction but it’s seen by many as an SEO vehicle. Bizwiki is new and Yellowikis has failed to really take off, at least in the West. Beyond the fact that he seems to be unaware of these efforts, Goldenson’s perspective makes logical sense from an abstract point of view. But in reality it’s a much more complicated and difficult proposition.

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Update: I neglected to mention the recently launched WikiCity as well.

5 Responses to “A Wikipedia for SMBs? It’s Already Here”

  1. Will Scott Says:

    We haven’t used bizwiki or yellowikis, but we use BrownBook extensively.

    Yes, it’s a good SEO Vehicle, but mostly because they’ve got a great interface and the folks running it are clearly thinking about how they can enhance value – and support their business model – for the SMB listings they contain.

    I recently used BrownBook as an example of a good use of Twitter feeds as well.

    Aside from listing our SMB clients we have no business relationship – I’m just a fan.

    Will

  2. John Wood Says:

    I take your point – it really looks as if Mr Goldenson forgot to properly research his subject before writing about it! A quick note about Brownbook.net: just in case anyone thought, from your post, that it was a low-cost service; it isn’t – it’s now totally free to both claim or add your listing as well as customize it with rich media, and it’s global too! (it lists 240 countries).

  3. Mark Goldenson Says:

    Hi Greg, thanks for the thoughts (I think🙂 ).

    I did not see the ability to create a business page that you do not own on Yahoo Local or Google Maps, or the ability to edit on Local. Could you clarify where that is?

    While both these sites and Yelp provide some details, my article proposed examples of many more details that could be specified. For example, most of the restaurant listings I have seen do not have menus, and most of the directories do not have fields specific to each industry.

    Brownbook and Bizwiki look interesting but to be fair, have relatively low traction. Quantcast and Compete estimate their traffic at around 50k-100k visitors per month compared to 28M for Yelp.

    My column isn’t as much about new ideas as interesting opportunities. As you know much better than I do, business search is so large that 50k-100k visitors is only a fraction of the potential audience.

    On incentives for people to edit, I agree that is a key question and one solution is discussed in the column: a point system that awards status and prizes. Editing businesses is probably not as fun as writing reviews or about a favorite topic, so I think creating an incentive system and vibrant community focused on contributing is essential. I don’t think any of the major brands focus on user-gen details, yet.

    I think this space is roughly where business networking was in 2003 before LinkedIn. There were poor competitors like Ryze and Friendster that had many of LinkedIn’s features but marketed poorly or mis-executed. LinkedIn now has 48M monthly visits compared to Ryze’s 53k.

    Overall, I think the business wiki space is still wide open and ripe for a market leader. I don’t have all the answers on how to create one, but I believe someone will.

  4. Greg Sterling Says:

    Mark:

    Wasn’t trying to be insulting. Your article did read however like you were largely unaware of the various efforts at doing just what you suggested. What made Wikipedia work is the intense interest in various topics by the authors and editors who created the entries. Later Wikipedia’s visibility created newer waves of interest and involvement. There’s no analogy in this context.

    If there were a mature Wiki directory, it might have a certain kind of momentum along the lines of Wikipedia. But I’m very skeptical that this is a context in which one can develop a similar success.

  5. Matt Aird Says:

    Hi Greg

    I also read Mark Goldenson’s post, and thought it made an excellent case for an online Wikipedia for small businesses – but then as you know he’s preaching to the choir in my case as I’ve been involved in building and running Bizwiki.com for the last couple of years, which is a serious attempt to do just that. Creating a user-edited wiki for business is the entire point and goal of Bizwiki.

    Obviously I agree with you that in extolling the virtues of the idea and the demand in the marketplace Mark that he may have overlooked the work already being done in this area. However, from my point of view I see that as our responsibility to take what is currently a fast growing (still beta!) start-up site and turn it into something a lot more visible with traffic levels that make it a lot harder for someone with an interest in this area to miss.

    Driving up traffic levels and visibility is one of our key goals in the months ahead, the more users the site has the more incentive there is for businesses to get involved in providing more detailed and advanced information, and it’s a challenge we’re embracing.

    Our experience is that awards, loyalty schemes, status points and prizes all have a place, but when it comes to business Traffic is the Killer Ap.

    Matt – For Bizwiki.com

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