In February of this year, I brought to your attention a UK-based online yellow pages start-up called BrownBook.net. While online yellow pages is a crowded and generally unremarkable category of online content, BrownBook was coming at it with a fresh and audacious approach by relying on the wiki model. Yes, user-generated content for yellow pages.
We know wikis can work. Just look at the success of Wikipedia. We know that databases can be built with user-generated content. Witness both Jigsaw and LinkedIn (both former InfoCommerce Models of Excellence winners). But the general thinking to date has been that users will contribute only when they're passionate about a topic or there's something in it for them. Most would agree that "yellow pages" and "passion" are rarely seen in the same sentence.
Despite this, BrownBook has persevered with this new approach, and by all reports, it's working. Strong site metrics are suggesting BrownBook may be onto something big with this innovative model.
Not content simply to revolutionize how yellow pages databases are built and maintained, BrownBook has just announced an equally remarkable innovation: it wants to turn its registered users into a commission sales force.
In a nutshell, if a registered user of BrownBook contributes content about a business, and that business later pays to enhance its listing, the registered user receives a portion of that revenue. But to make things more interesting, this isn't a one-time payment. It's a lifetime commission stream to that user as long as that business remains an advertiser. So while users can likely make a few dollars passively, they can potentially make a lot of money by actively encouraging the businesses they write about to advertise in BrownBook, and to remain advertisers in BrownBook as well. Consider too the potentially viral aspects of this model as BrownBook users start to receive checks, initially for not doing anything. It won't take them long to spread the word to their friends and recognize that by talking up BrownBook to their favorite retailers, they can develop a nice stream of ongoing cash.The best way to get the full story on BrownBook is to be at InfoCommerce 2008 in Philadelphia - just 16 days from now - where you can hear Marc Lyne, BrownBook's co-founder, on our kick-off Meet the Evolutionaries" panel. See you there ...