Friday, October 07, 2005

Think global, act local

I had a meeting with a client recently who was concerned about some holdings in the directories space. With Google, et al seemingly poised to take over the world, was there any future for these businesses? I pointed out that the vast majority of the really impressive stuff Google and others have accomplished in local search has been limited to a handful of markets, most of them English-speaking (with the odd exception). Even in core Europe, the range of locally optimized features is still relatively limited.

So there's an awful lot of work to be done in this area, and boring old directories businesses could play a major role in accelerating this, in my view. Yell, for example, provides the business listings for Google Local in the UK, but probably more importantly, it has longstanding relationships with thousands and thousands of businesses which have no web presence yet. These might be the kinds of businesses which might fit nicely in an eBay "local services market" concept (plumbers, carpenters, electricians, house cleaners), as Martin Geddes suggested to me a couple of weeks back.

There may be potentially huge, untapped transactional value lying within the pages of the humble directory, and at the moment a lot of it is controlled by companies which telcos spun off opportunistically during a time of financial need. Interesting that these names have outperformed not only their own sector (media), but moreover, the STOXX Telecom index by 8 - 24% since the beginning of the year. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of them end up getting snapped up.

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