Fill 'er Up

A new launch by Picaphone, which aims to create the first international phone directory, caught my eye this week so I decided to check out

After dozens of searches for all types of companies, big and small all yielded no results, I was pushed to an inexorable conclusion: this database nothing in it.

Back to the press release again and I noticed the statement, "The success of this ambitious project depends on the cooperation of web surfers all over the world." Yes, it's all about user-generated content, but with the remarkable goal of trying to collect every telephone directory listing in the world. Imagine how many listings would have to be contributed (and maintained) for this to become a site worthy enough for users to return to repeatedly.

I certainly have no beef with this company's audacious business objective. My point is that the window is rapidly closing for online data ventures that set up shop with a user interface and back-end database and then say to the world, "fill 'er up." Why? Very simply, the novelty factor is gone. That's why last year's Data Content Conference featured companies such as Snooth and BrownBook. Both these companies see user-generated content as integral to their success, but both started out supplying an initial dataset that delivered value while encouraging users to augment this information. With this approach, these companies deliver value to users immediately, rather than hoping magic will happen and users will do a credible (and rapid) job building out the database from scratch. I'd go so far as to argue that the bigger the scope of a user-generated database product, the more important to provide an initial dataset.

But what about companies like Jigsaw and Linked-In you may properly ask. These two very successful databases were built entirely from user-generated content. To this I would respond that these companies caught the wave of early excitement around user-generated content, so they had great timing going for them. I'd also argue that these databases, while they certainly became more valuable as they got bigger, were still able to deliver value to users while quite small. Think about it: both Jigsaw and Linked-In could deliver some value to users with 50,000 names; a database claiming to be a global telephone directory cannot.User-generated content certainly isn't dying; in fact where user-generated content augments a publisher's existing database it is very much alive and well. User-generated data products where the database starts completely empty are also lacking much promise.

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