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Google Juice Put to Good Use

The second most visited post on Fractals of Change was written to publicize a comment posted after I ranted about AT&T ripping off American soldiers on calling card calls home from Iraq and Afghanistan (a practice apparently continued by at&t, BTW). The post gets so many visits because commenters have used it as a bulletin board to amplify the advice my original commenter gave on how to make calls home free or at least at decent rates. No post of mine has ever drawn so many comments; no other post gets comments (not counting comment spam) more than a year after it was originally written. The latest just last week adds significant new information for soldiers.

Google indexes the words and phrases in the comments as well as the words I originally wrote. As I explained yesterday, FOC has fairly good Google juice because of the other blogs which point to it. So, when soldiers or the families Google words having to do with soldiers calling home including the magic initials DSN (still not sure what it stands for but it’s a government network which lets military families make free calls to soldiers IF they can only find an access number), they see my post. As they scroll down through the comments, they often find access numbers and other helpful suggestions. Even better, many leave more access numbers and more helpful suggestions there. That’s the way the Web should work.

Note that this builds on the same spirit of helpfulness that wikipedia and wiktionary do. People really do want to help each other with the things they care about. Am still mulling over what kind of site might be set up as a search engine where people look for info on timely topics ranging from a current network outage to a longer-term need to avoid being overcharged for calling home from a war zone AND where they’re encouraged to add to the store of knowledge on the subject.

Meanwhile, I’m very glad to have my post used as a bulletin board for information much more helpful and current than what I originally wrote.

wiki411.com

Getting phone service for our summer house (see here and here) reminded me of how broken the directory assistance and white pages model is now that the world has gone online and cellular and is going VoIP (despite some nasty bumps in the road).  Fixing broken stuff is a great way to start a business. Mary and I are through doing that so you’re welcome to pick up on the opportunity – in fact, I hope you will.

If you get your phone service from THE PHONE COMPANY – Verizon in our case, you have to pay $2.35/month NOT to have your number listed in the phone book!  It’ll cost you $4.20 if you also DON’T want to be listed with directory assistance. This is probably an opportunity for a lawyer more than for a businessman. Gotta be someway to overturn whatever ancient Public Service Board ruling authorized this particular form of identity blackmail.

But, if your phone number is attached to a wireless or a VoIP phone, it doesn’t usually get listed at all.  Most people don’t want their wireless phones listed so this is fine for them but others use these phones for business or have no other phone so really would like a listing. Here’s Vonage’s explanation of when you will or won’t be listed if you order service from them:

“If you have received a new phone number from Vonage, you will not be listed in a telephone directory unless you contact your phone book publisher and request to be listed.

“If you are transferring your number to Vonage and you were previously listed in your local telephone directory's white pages, by checking the two boxes on the
Number Transfer Authorization  form, you will remain listed in the white pages of the directory. Otherwise, you won't be listed.


“You will not be listed in the 411 directory unless you contact your phone book publisher.”

Note that switching to VoIP is a good way to get rid of your directory listing without paying a fee.  But it sounds from this like you can keep only your directory and NOT your 411 listing; I’m not sure, however, that’s the way it really works.

If you’re getting a new number from Vonage and want it listed, you are supposed to call your “phone book publisher”. In my case that’s Verizon.  I looked in the phone book and it said to call my service rep for “omissions” so I called. Had a nice chat with a robot and eventually got to a person who insisted that Vonage would have to list me and then I’d get in the directory. You’ve already seen what Vonage says above. In programming we call this an infinite loop.

Here’s where the business opportunity comes in. Why, now that we have an Internet, do we need a “directory publisher” who has any authority to decide whether to list us or not and what number to list for us? What we need is someplace online where we can create our own listings (or not) and which is accessible by phone or Internet for getting listing information – wiki411.com! Of course cellphone numbers, email addresses and even snail mail addresses as well as IM, Skype, and other contact info could be included in the listings.

Like all network businesses, it’s easy to see how this would be successful if it were already in place and populated. The trouble is getting started. There’s no value in being listed at wiki411.com if no one is looking there for listings. There won’t be anyone looking at wiki411.com for listings until it’s well-populated so that there is a good chance of finding someone.

Fortunately, there’s an easy solution if you’ve got the capital to get started. Wiki411.com should start by buying the best set of current listings (these are available commercially) and making these available free. Then the service needs to buy lots of CPC and banner ads making clear that this service has every number every other service has PLUS the self-listed numbers and addresses. Initially advertising on the site should be heavily filled with promotions to get inquirers to list their own contact info – perhaps even lottery-type prizes with everyone who registers eligible.

There needs to be an authentication method for listings but that’s not rocket science.

How to make money at this is also not difficult to imagine. Charging for lookups is NOT the answer, however.

Hope someone is already secretly doing this; maybe it’s in private beta and I just don’t know.

BTW, I own the wiki411 set of URLs. Don’t usually buy and warehouse domain names but I know this is something that’s gotta happen.

Wikipedians vs. Bloggers

Wikipedia is an incredibly useful research tool.  It can be wrong; articles can be badly written; it is sometimes hacked and sometime manipulated.  All of those occasional annoyances are trivial given the advantages of scope and currency which Wikipedia has.  But Wikipedia is somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to blogs.

[Note: If you’re not familiar with Wikipedia, go here and look something up as you would in any encyclopedia.  Then look something else up.  You’ll be amazed.  Even more so when you realize that Wikipedia articles are posted by volunteers – often anonymously – and, with several small exceptions, anyone can post an article and anyone can edit any article anyone posted.  Somehow it works almost all of the time.  Obviously, NO source, online or offline, should be trusted all the time and without verification.]

Wikipedia is particularly useful to bloggers since it’s there, available, as we compose online AND because we link to Wikipedia articles (although we CAN’T be sure they won’t change between the time we cite them and the time our readers follow the link to them).  I know there is a big overlap between those who read blogs and those who use Wikipedia; I suspect there is also a large overlap between those who write and comment on blogs and those who post or correct articles on Wikipedia.

But Wikipedia is somewhat schizophrenic when it comes to blogs.

I realized this shortly after I created a Wikipedia article on advisory capital (a term Stowe Boyd introduced and many blogs are discussing) when the article suddenly disappeared.  “WTF?” I asked myself.

Turns out that it was “speedy deleted” by a Wikipedia editor (there is such a thing – something like a sysop on a message board used to be). The reason given was “lack of context” which basically means the topic was made up out of the blue. The deleted article list pointed to the deleted article policy which told me how to appeal a deletion. I did.

The process is interesting. I posted an appeal. Other people agreed that the article did not qualify for SPEEDY deletion but, because it was based on blogs, might also not qualify for retention. By consensus, they decided to resurrect the article but put it on the list of articles which are proposed for deletion. The decision was that there had been a process error but perhaps not a substantive one.

The article came back. Immediately there were a couple of recommendations for its deletion, this time with due process. Grounds this time are that the term is a neologism – a made up word. Neologisms are allowed when there is evidence (search engines allowed) that they are actually in somewhat widespread use. New words often start as neologism – Wikipedia lists both “blackhole” and “neologism” as example of respectable words which began life as neologisms.

Of course, I cited the hundreds of references to the term which can be found in both Google and Technorati but these references are all in blogs. And current Wikipedia verifiability policy says: “Anyone can create a website or pay to have a book published, and then claim to be an expert in a certain field. For that reason, self-published books, personal websites, and blogs are largely not acceptable as sources.”

The policy also says: “One of the keys to writing good encyclopedia articles is to understand that they should refer only to facts, assertions, theories, ideas, claims, opinions, and arguments that have already been published by a reputable publisher.”  In other words, self-published articles are not welcome as sources for the self-published encyclopedia. Huh!?

Wikipedia policy makes a good argument that readers should have sources to check. I do check the sources cited in Wikipedia articles often. But I neither agree that traditional media sources are particularly reliable – we do remember several recent incidents in the New York Times, don’t we? – nor that self-published sources should be ignored.  It’s enough to cite the sources and allow the reader to decide what credibility to give them; it’s not helpful for the editors of Wikipedia to decide which sources are credible although they should be applauded for insisting that sources be cited.

The example of “advisory capital” is a trivial one but a good illustration. Within a few months use of the term “advisory capital” will either have died out or been picked up by the traditional media. According to some interpretations of Wikipedia policy, the article will become appropriate once the term appears on a dead tree. The irony is, of course, the traditional media will have picked the term up from the blog discussion which Stowe Boyd started.

Obviously blogs are authoritative and verifiable as a source for what is being discussed on blogs – the claim I’m making for advisory capital. But it is an oxymoron for Wikipedia to disdain self-published information on any subject. Sure, most individual bloggers (including me) have earned little public credibility. Individual contributors to Wikipedia don’t have individual credibility either. But the aggregate of the information and opinions presented on blogs or Wikipedia articles is an extremely useful source. There isn’t much difference between bloggers and Wikipedians.

One of the many strengths of Wikipedia is that everything including policy is open to discussion (altho Wikipedia disclaims being a democracy).  Searching for my missing article and the reasons for its demise, I joined the WikiProject on Blogging to better integrate Wikipedia and blogs.  You can join or lurk as well if you’re interested.

The discussion on whether or not to delete the advisory capital article is here. Not sure how that’ll come out (only one vote to keep so far) but I’m more concerned with the overall issue of blogs as one of many useful types of source than with this particular article.

Even given its current antiblog bias, Wikipedia is a great source and one worth improving.

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