#Asia The evolution of discover-ability: From Yellow Pages to digital pages


The evolution of how we discover or find the right person for the job has gone through a paradigm shift, boosted by innovative startups that have redefined discover-ability

Growing up, I distinctly remember a thick, bright yellow, menacingly dull book positioned dutifully near the house telephone. It was a recurring presence in almost every household until the late 90’s, and suddenly, almost overnight, it vanished. The Yellow Pages phone directory are now relegated to a ‘thing of the past’ with young millennial’s never having even physically seen one.

The Yellow Pages were the go-to place for any and all contact requirements. If you wanted to look up a doctor you shuffled through the pages till you found one suiting your requirements. Everything from academic tutors, music instrument instructors, electricians and plumbers to old neighbours could be discovered between those coarse yellow coloured pages. It was the ‘Bible’ of local business information. Why then do we not use them anymore? Simply put, the vanquish of the Yellow pages can be attributed primarily to a rapidly altering technology outlook.

The advent of Yahoo and Google were the ultimate blow to the Yellow Pages industry. Search engines became the new normal, people would casually type in keywords and in nano seconds get hundreds of responses to their query.

A generation ago, growing your local business meant making some fairly simple marketing choices, most obvious among which was to advertise and list in the local phone directory. It offered both high impact and long-term visibility.

Today, businesses spend thousands on manpower dedicated to improving SEOs. Google’s search engine had a big impact on business owners and consequently customers and fast became the preferred way to discover local businesses and service providers.

Over the last few years, The Yellow Pages in the US have worked hard to reinvent themselves. In a bid to adapt to changing times, they also went digital with an online presence and are known as IYP (Internet Yellow Pages). The idea was to give customers a selection of digital offerings as opposed to simply listing services. IYP differs from standard search engines in its method of providing results. While search engines return results based on relevancy to the search term, IYP returns results based on a geographic area.

According to Wikipedia, studies from independent companies such as Nielsen and comScore have shown that Internet Yellow Pages have a smaller percentage of total Internet searches, 85 per cent of all Internet searches, occur on the major search engines Google, Yahoo and Bing. The iconic ‘walking fingers’ logo of the Yellow Pages could well be used now to depict ‘clicking fingers’ instead. 

The last decade has seen an unprecedented rise in smartphone creation and penetration in local markets. This perhaps has also been the greatest contributor to the start-up boom in India and overseas. Today we have gone a step further from traditional search engines. Several emerging business or colloquially speaking ‘startups’ have taken it upon themselves to connect consumers and service providers like never before. Downloading a mobile application on a location enabled device, 3 clicks, and a few keywords is all it takes to find a service provider who meets all your requirements.

Perhaps the most significant player in this market is JustDial. A company that provides pan India search services via all mediums from phone, web, mobile app and SMS. Incidentally, VSS Mani, the founder of JustDial, thought of the idea while working for a Yellow Pages company called United Database India. The success and popularity of JustDial is well documented, and all of us at some point have benefited from their many services.

With several startups entering the online service marketplace segment, users now have multiple platforms that enable them to make informed choices and hire smartly. From home services for electricians and plumbers on call to niche services such as hiring a chef or an event planner. From language tutors to hobby class instructors and fitness trainers, there is a mobile app available for it all.

While local businesses are benefiting by partnering with innovative, new-age startups by getting access to their user base, customers too get a plethora of options apart from the obvious ones they may have heard of. Startups like Zimmber, LocalOye, UrbanPro and UrbanClap are operating in this space, providing users and service providers an active platform to connect with each other.

The transformation and evolution of how we discover or find the right person for the job has gone through a paradigm shift, boosted by technology enabled and innovative problem solving startups and companies that have redefined discover-ability. Internet and the digital revolution have given us access to an unprecedented amount of information quite literally at our fingertips.

While These are exciting times to live in but somewhere, a little part of me misses that thick yellow book that was routinely replaced every year with a newer glossier edition.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, you can submit your post here.

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