At a WhitePages.com-sponsored “blogger day” last week, I and LMS colleague Pete Headrick, had a chance to hear about where the company’s been and where it’s going: interesting places. It was preceded by a Mike Arrington-moderated discussion about the iPhone and several iPhone apps (Urbanspoon, Jott, and WhitePages). The demos and initial discussion were interesting but the conversation ultimately devolved into an iPhone vs. Android debate. The Seattle PI covered it here.
WhitePages.com is a terrifically successful business, selling (mostly display) advertising against its huge traffic and network — the company has relationships with most US yellow pages publishers and a range of others, including MSN. It also owns a range of brands/destinations in the US and Canada, including Address.com, PhoneNumber.com and 411.com.
The company also claims roughly 40 million monthly uniques. The most recent comScore “Top 50” US sites shows WhitePages.com at 42. But comScore likely counts traffic to WhitePages lookups on partner sites as belonging to those partners (e.g., Superpages). WhitePages’ database of people listings (collected through various methodologies) now is roughly 180 million according to the company. WhitePages says this is orders of magnitude larger than anyone else.
If my notes are correct, CEO Alex Algard said the site made something approaching $70 million in 2007. It’s a very profitable but not too sexy business. Part of the reason for the blogger day was to announce the company’s new direction. Consistent with that new direction WhitePages recently bought voice platform Snapvine.
What was most interesting to me, beyond the impressive metrics was this conceptual shift from directory to what the company is calling a “connectory.” What does that mean? It means a medium or hub for direct communications between people. As opposed to simply looking up names — the company cited a range of data on usage frequency — soon users will be able to leave voicemail messages for one another or send text messages to registered users’ cellphones, all via the site.
To that end, WhitePages is trying to get people to register and provide more content, including their cellphone numbers. The number can be exposed or concealed by the user. If it’s concealed, there’s the option to send a text message to that person, which they’ll receive on their cell. (Most users are likely to opt-out of showing their cell numbers.) Voicemail functionality (via Snapvine) is coming soon.
There are lots of directions the company could go: into free 411, into social networking, into local search more directly. But it has said that it’s not going into those areas, although people do use the site for business lookups frequently. But the directions it is going are pretty interesting.
If WhitePages is successful creating a national cellphone database that allows people to be contacted while giving them real privacy controls it will really be a coup. But beyond this the new “connectory” functionality is very interesting generally. People can start using the site as a way to contact one another using voice or text messaging. That transforms the otherwise useful but sleepy directory site into something much more dynamic and integrated into to people’s daily lives.
There was another intriguing product that was briefly, almost subliminally previewed (it came and went so fast) but it wasn’t “bloggable.”