Bringing the web to White Pages

I had a chance to talk with Henry Whitfield, founder of, on October 10th, 2004. (For those keeping score, Henry and I met through

What is TelID? A surprisingly simple idea for marrying web addresses to phone numbers in white page listings (and potentially, beyond).

Here’s the opportunity:

a) White Page listings are currently poorly monetized (if at all)

b) Publishers are motivated to optimize listings based on space (to save printing costs); the less space, the better

c) A few Publishers have allowed advertisers to include an URL alongside their phone number (for a fee). But this is problematic. URLs tend to be 1) long [see B, above], 2) transitory (especially for small businesses who go through multiple web presences early on), and 3) difficult for users to transcribe from print (or a voice call) to online

Henry proposes a fairly elegant solution:

a) Publisher’s sell an upgrade from a basic white page listing to a TelID listing

b) TelID up-sold white page listings are printed on a light blue (etc) background, setting them off visually from other listings

c) A key on the page instructs the user that they can instantly find the advertiser’s web site by entering the advertiser’s phone number at; alternatively, more proficient users can enter “[phonenumber]” into their browser directly.

d) TelID automatically redirects to the Advertiser’s web site when their phone number is entered at (Advertisers may change the URL that TelID should redirect to at any time through a simple web UI.)

e) TelID will provide basic reporting (e.g., number of redirects/month) so the Advertiser can evaluate ROI.

Is there a need?

From a Publisher’s perspective, yes. Turning the bone yard that is white page listings into a profit center makes sense. Advertiser’s who can be up-sold this modest program may also become prospects for further up-sells to yellow page listings, local search SEM services, etc.

From an Advertiser’s perspective, maybe. As long as it’s priced in the “can’t hurt to try it” range (initially), and proves its ROI by delivering a fair quantity (and quality) of leads, it’ll work.

From a User’s perspective, also maybe. Yahoo Local and Google Local (et al) want to be your source for conveniently finding local information online (and searching for a phone number should return more relevant listings than a business name, at the local level). Concurrently, InsiderPages, Yelp, Tribe (et al) want you to abandon plain old listings for “trusted referrals”.

There is definitely an opportunity here… but for how long? People have been fortelling the end of print newspapers for quite some time, but they live on. Do print white pages have staying power in the face of local search, directory and referral services?

What’s your take?

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One comment on “ Bringing the web to White Pages
  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi Tony,

    Well, at least it is better than CueCat!

    In all seriousness, we have considered that services such as this have a place somewhere, but I question a number of aspects of TelID’s offering.

    1. I have real doubts on converting print usage into web reference; if you are going to use your computer to look at a website, why would you use your printed directory in the first place? And if you are already online, are you going to use your white pages just to find a URL (real or virtual)? Most people will go with Google or their local YP site.

    2. The technology to enable this is dead simple – I doubt TelID will be able to sell this in to many publishers, they will jsut go off and built it themselves.

    3. As for advertisers, it may help get them noticed better in the White Pages, but who needs it? The consumer is already looking for your phone number, or else they would be using the Yellow Pages. If they want more info, they will give me a call, and I will tell them whatever they need to know, probably better than my website will.

    Anyway, there is my 2c. I’m looking forward to catching up with you at the Kelsey conference and going through all the recent local search happenings.

    Bart Denny