Every time I see an ad for the AT&T Yellow Pages, the Yellow Book or their various print and online competitors, I tell myself, "There's got to be a better way to do this."
Centiare -- based on the same MediaWiki platform as Wikipedia -- could be it. Centiare also has potential to compete with Hoover's, and -- who knows? -- even peel away a subset of MySpace users.
As the site describes itself:
Centiare is a unique online reference directory that anyone can use. You can set up your very own Directory page about yourself or your business, and no other users can edit it. That's how the Directory pages work -- if you create it, you own it. Within these "user-owned" commercial, non-profit, government, personal, and property Directory listings, you're encouraged to express advocate points-of-view (APOV); include links to your products, artwork, blogs, or books you've written; and create wiki-links to any other pages in Centiare that you find interesting.
Developed by Karl Nagel and Greg Kohs, Centiare sees a market opportunity in Wikipedia's rather awkward approach to dealing with certain types of entries -- particularly those from corporations.
Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, in an effort to maintain Wikipedia's integrity, has discouraged companies from posting about themselves -- even going so far as to say that the posting of content by PR people on Wikipedia is "unethical." As a result, Wikipedia is currently a better place to find information about porn stars and the "five-second rule" than serious information about Fortune 1000 companies and interesting startups.
Nagel and Kohs describe two primary frustrations for businesses and individuals who want to be part of Wikipedia:
1. A personal opinion -- even expert opinion -- about a topic can be overruled by just one or two other users (who may even be children) who have no expertise on the subject.
2. An individual or a company is discouraged from writing anything about itself -- even to correct erroneous information.
As Kohs -- whose MyWikiBiz project has been frustrated by Wikipedia's stance on business entries -- explains Centiare's niche:
Centiare not only allows, but also encourages, all the things Jimmy Wales has worked to prevent from happening in Wikipedia -- ownership of articles, advocate point-of-view, and the most robust searching possibilities seen this side of Google.
The "robust searching possibilities" Kohs references come from Centiare's use of the Semantic Web, a feature resident within Wikipedia that has never been enabled for fear that it was too complex for users. (You can learn more about Semantic Wikis here.)
Here's how Centiare works:
1. Contributors must first register with a non-throwaway e-mail address, so there is a higher degree of authenticity among users.
2. Contributors are encouraged to take ownership of Directory articles about themselves or their enterprises. They may write as opinionated advocates in the Directory; neutrality is not required. They can sell products, promote videos and upload documents.
3. Because the Semantic Web is installed on Centiare, searches can be performed that wouldn't be possible on Google, MySpace, or Wikipedia. An example of the search that Nagel and Kohs envision: "Locate all home heating oil companies, at least 50 years in business, in New Jersey."
Centiare expects its initial contributors to include an eclectic mix of small businesses, artists and other creatives, and graduate students and professors. From there, Nagel and Kohs expect an expanding network of contributors, including larger companies.
As long as no big guns intrude on this space, Centiare has tremendous potential. Check it out -- and PR and marketing types, feel free to post an entry on behalf of your clients.