The Internet Directory Will Not Be Defined or Built by the Internet

Tony Genovese
Microsoft Corporation, USA

Position

The Internet has been working for many years now to develop a technology and infrastructure to support Internet Directory Service (IDS). Several technologies have been deployed with modest success. It is currently estimated that the IDS has 4 million White Page entries. Resource directories (e.g. Yahoo, Alta Vista) are approaching 30 million pages. Commercial White Page services for the United States have 100 million entries. The driving force on the success of resource directories and commercial White Page services is money.

Rationale

The Internet has misfocused its attentions on the development of technology vs. the development of a market. We cannot be blamed for this because this is not a problem that we are positioned to deal with. Industry, on the other hand, is trying to commercialize the previously free domain of the Internet. People see that there is value in ownership of information and the technology that allows people to find it. Whether or not people will make it rich here is yet to be determined, but money is being poured into this market development.

The Web has become a powerful tool for people to express and share information. With the development of high-performance full text search technology, the vast wasteland of the Web is starting to become organized. This technology is now being applied to the White Pages and Yellow Pages problem. It does not take a large reach of the imagination to see that any company can create a Web page to advertise a product. Also, in the same light, you can see that a personal Web page or company home page could be seen just as a White Page entry in these large search databases.

We should not focus only on Yellow Pages, White Pages or resource directories. What we should look at are the types of directories our customers are asking for. There are currently two basic services they want:

  1. We need to help people find resources on the Internet. Yahoo and Alta Vista are good examples.
  2. We need to help people find people. Four11 and Switchboard are good examples.

These are the market areas that are being developed. The first area, people finding resources, is starting to shake out. There is still room to grow as companies try to figure out which directory service company to be listed with. Currently a company will try to get into every resource directory. This is turning into the classic area of the conventional telephone Yellow Pages. The companies with brand recognition and technical and content resources will go the farthest. The second area, people finding people, is currently dominated by the public Internet. Yet, here we are just ahead because we were the only game in town. A new group of businesses is trying to carve out a niche.

For any Internet directory service to work, it must meet the following three requirements:

1. Data gathering and editing

The data that are to be marketed must be viewed by customers as being current, relevant and of sufficient depth to answer their wants. This cannot be done with technology only, it takes a staff to review and remove old or irrelevant data. This is the type of service we see in our travel guide books. We do not want to call a hotel in Paris to find out that they are out of business.

2. Search and presentation

The use of Internet directories is going the same way as large databases have historically. Current technology is allowing us to scale to tens of millions of entries for any given topic. Deep hierarchies are not popular with the user community. Yahoo is beginning to stretch this concept. Currently the leader in Internet presentation is Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). Any directory service must provide access to its content via the Web.

3. Operations

Any service must be able to handle customer loads and be available 7x24. This will require services to start positioning themselves globally. There is one area that the commercial directory services are not as good at as the current Internet directory service, and that is direct machine accessible entries. These directory services are all geared to provide Web access to their data. One reason, because of HTML, is that they can place ads on the results of a search, thereby generating revenue. Having a mail client access an entry will require another revenue model. This may result in limiting access to the directory to paid members only. New revenue models are needed. We also need to find some kind of revenue-sharing model if we want to have a single (from a user's perspective) global directory. These businesses are going to create large services, but it is inconceivable that anyone will control the entire market. Technology is only one part of the global directory problem; revenue sharing is the other.