Online 'wiki' business directory launches in the UK

A user-generated content-based business directory has been launched in the UK, making use of a Wikipedia-style approach that relies on consumers to add, find and rate local businesses.

Brownbook went live last month with the details of more than two million businesses and its creators, who claim it is the first 'peer-produced' online directory service, have plans to launch the service in the US in the next few months - licensing some 26 million listings there - with launches in Australia and Canada to follow in the future.

"We wanted to give the businesses and the consumers more power, and when we saw Wikipedia, we realised it was the perfect concept," said Jerry Brown, one of the directory's founders.

"We set about building the Brownbook by embracing wiki principles of 'anyone-can-edit', and simultaneously removing any need to understand technology or syntax."

Brownbook's creators - two senior ex-directory industry executives - created the service after they decided that the big directory companies were charging businesses high prices to advertise.

With traditional directory services, consumers also have no way of knowing if the business provides what they need as the advertising in question is paid for rather than rated by other consumers. Brownbook's parents claim their service attempts to remedy this situation, making the directory open to all users and offering a comment system where consumers are free to write a positive or negative review about any business they choose.

Brown said that the review aspect of the site was what made it unique and integral to how the website would work. "Some businesses really care about the service they give, but often we seem to experience bad service from businesses that just don't care," he said. "Aside from telling a few friends about it we can't really make ourselves heard and bad businesses continue to get away with it. Conversely, businesses that give good service don't really get the recognition and commendation they deserve."

Listings are free on the new directory, which the founder claims will make the service particularly attractive for small businesses. Instead, Brownbook will make money from sponsored advertising on its search page provided by Google. Businesses also have the option of paying in order to get additional information on their listings.

"For businesses to advertise in the big directories, it is prohibitively expensive," Brown said. "It takes ages to add your business to something like the Yellow Pages. We wanted to build something where small businesses could promote themselves instantly and have an online promotional channel."