Online directory WhitePages.com says it’s thriving, with traffic up and revenue expected to surpass $66 million this year — but the site also faces a long-term challenge: How to keep its listings relevant as more people use unlisted cell phones and e-mail addresses to communicate. As part of a $2.5 million site overhaul that the company is officially making public Tuesday, WhitePages.com is asking users to help out. The new site prominently asks users to “Add Your Listing,” including cell phone numbers and e-mail addresses, to the site’s database. Users can specify whether to make the information completely public or to “hide it” so that they can still be reachable via the site.
CEO Alex Algard says that during nine months of testing, 700,000 people contributed their own listings. He expects two million by year’s end. By September, Algard says the site will also open all of its existing listings up so that anyone can edit their own. He says the initiative is part of an attempt to transform the site from a straightforward listings directory to what he calls a “connectory” — a site that provides people with ways to connect with each other. “Long term, it’s critical,” he says. (Already, the site lets people send text messages for free and those who create listings may soon have access to advanced voice mail accounts, Algard says. Some additional functionality will be based on technology acquired via the company’s purchase of voice services startup Snapvine a year ago).
At the same time, Algard emphasizes that the company’s traditional business — which powers listings not only on WhitePages.com but also on sites like Switchboard.com and MSN.com — is growing. He says the site has worked to build its database, which now includes entries of some sort — usually addresses or landlines — for more than 90 percent of the United States population. There are also 37 million listings for working professionals, which often include job titles and phone numbers. “LinkedIn — they have a strong penetration in high tech space — but if you think about it everyone in the U.S. who is a working professional is not necessarily in the tech space,” he says.
WhitePages.com is entirely dependent on ad sales and Algard says that despite the recession, sales will be up this year. The company laid off five percent of its staff last fall but Algard says that was unrelated to slowing ad sales and rather represented a “rebalance” from support posts to developers and sales staff. A year ago, he predicted that revenue would reach $200 million within three years. He says he won’t back down from that statement but emphasizes it’s a “goal” — not a forecast.