Clay Shirky, Connected and Yellow Pages

Yellow-pages-comicTwo weeks ago, after seeing Yellow Pages stacked, unused and unwanted in both my own and several friends apartment buildings, I started a Facebook Group entitled 100,000 Canadians who’ve opted out of yellow pages! In two weeks, with friends telling a friend here and there, we’ve grown to 1000 people. So where did this come from and where is it going?

Well, for a number of years there have been petitions against Yellow Pages but obviously they have had little impact and, frankly, I suspect they actually garner few sign-ups. In Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do Christakis and Fowler show how people are more likely to vote when their friends, and friends’, friends voted. This suggests there is a strong social component to behaviour. Given that many people I talk to want to opt-out, I thought maybe people will be more likely to opt-out if they knew their friends and their friends, friends opt out. And maybe we could help create that cycle. Facebook, because it allows us to connect with our friends and share some online actions we take, felt like a great platform to do this. Indeed, it seemed to me exactly the ingredient that many online petitions (Which don’t allow you to socialize your activity) seemed to be missing. Also, surprisingly, there wasn’t already a Facebook group dedicated to this.

yellow-pages-banIndeed, looking at Yellow Pages own research reaffirmed my belief that such a group could be successful. They claim 61% of Canadians aged 18+ use their directories at least once a month to look up a business. (Interestingly you can’t read the report on which the claim is made). But (a) this felt unlikely and (b) once a month? So people use the yellow pages 12 times a year…? That’s not delivering value, indeed the number is so unimpressive and underwhelming that if that is the best they can offer, I’m sure we can find lots of Canadians who’d prefer to just say no.

So how I have I structured this (admittedly) off the side of my computer and amateur-driven campaign? I’m trying to follow Clay Shirky’s three pieces of advice at the end of Here Comes Everybody. Make clear the promise, the tool and the bargain.

The Promise: the thing that convinces a potential user to become an actual user.

The promise of this Facebook group is: by taking a simple action and sharing it with our friends, we can save a lot of waste and not receive a large (and annoying) piece of spam in our mailbox. The goal here is to keep everything simple. Participating requires very little time, the impact is immediate (you stop receiving the yellow pages) but also can scale significantly (lots of yellow pages may never get printed). Indeed, an extreme possible outcome – should enough people join the group – is breaking the printed yellow pages business model. If a sufficient number of Canadians actually opted out of the yellow pages, it would be hard for advertisers to believe Yellow Pages marketing materials as probably several more million aren’t on facebook, haven’t joined the group, but also find it useless. But, I’m not holding my breath – for now, I’m happy even getting a few thousand people to opt out.

The Tool: what will enable people to do what they actually want to do.

In our case, it is opt out of receiving the yellow pages. So there are two key tools. The first, is Yellow Pages opt-out form. Indeed, this group exists because there’s failure in information distribution. In some ways the group is about socializing this tool that people find helpful. Most people I talk to think the Yellow Pages are a waste and wish they didn’t have to get them. The truth is, you can opt out of receiving them – it was just that nobody knows how. We are fixing that information gap.

The second tool is a way to share the good news with others. Here, thanks to facebook, we leverage their tools, such as invites, status updates, people even upload photos of Yellow Pages siting unwanted in their apartment lobbies, share videos or – as in the case of Rob above – draw cartoons!

An unanticipated tool has been people helping each other out with filling out the form, or giving feedback to Yellow Pages about their service.

The Bargain: Helps clarify what you expect of others and what they can expect of you.

The bargain for this group is possible most interesting. Since I believe the Yellow Pages is spam and that, frankly, no one likes getting unwanted emails here is the bargain I’ve crafted. Users will opt out of the yellow pages and, hopefully, tell a few friends about the group. As group owner, I promise to only reach out to the group 5 times. Once when the group size hits 1000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, and (if we are so lucky) 100,000! I don’t want people to feel burdened by this group – I want them to feel liberated, happy and rewarded. Moreover, people’s time is valuable… so not communicating with them is probably the best thing I can do – hence, the self-imposed limits that reflects milestones we can collectively feel proud of achieving.

Going forward

So without spamming our own networks we’ve gotten to 1000 people in two weeks. Fairly good growth. Will we hit 100,000? I don’t know. It is an ambitious goal. Will we break the Yellow Pages business model? Probably less likely. But can we save some trees and save ourselves the hassle of receiving some very bulky and unwanted mail. Yes. And maybe we can show that Canadians don’t use the Yellow Pages. Ultimately, though we can tell a company that the very people it claims to serve just think it is appalling that they spam an entire country with a 400 page book particularly in an era where, as far as I can tell, so few people actually use it.

Oh, and I hope you’ll consider joining the group and telling a few friends.

11 thoughts on “Clay Shirky, Connected and Yellow Pages

  1. Aaron McGowan

    I joined the group almost immediately once it was created. I have seen it grow the size it is now and I would like to congratulate you on it so far and the great job you are doing with it.I look forward to seeing it hit its potential size and hopefully it will. Plus the bonus of it all and not just to stop receiving spam mail – we get to help save trees and the environment in the process!

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention Clay Shirky, Connected and Yellow Pages | eaves.ca -- Topsy.com

  3. Cjottawa

    Great post and a great initiative Dave. One problem: I'm not on Facebook. Neither is my spouse and we both support this initiative. How can we be included?

    Reply
  4. David Eaves

    At the very minimum you can still opt out of receiving the yellow pages by clicking here <http://delivery.ypg.com/delivery//form.php&gt;!I understand many people's reservations about being on facebook… It is frustrating that best social platform is also so closed. Not being there does make it harder for people like me to make your actions more “social.” One thing you could do is suggest some friends who are on facebook to join and of course, twitter about the facebook group.Hope this helps?

    Reply
  5. Cjottawa

    Count on it! We've already opted out and “shared” the link to your blog post with everyone watching our RSS feeds. :)

    Reply
  6. risi13

    The yellow pages are slowly becoming an artefact of the past. Nobody cares to look up businesses in any book or magazine when a Local business directory is just two clicks away and it's also eco-friendlier, since we spare a lot of paper by using the internet.

    Reply
  7. risi13

    The yellow pages are slowly becoming an artefact of the past. Nobody cares to look up businesses in any book or magazine when a Local business directory is just two clicks away and it's also eco-friendlier, since we spare a lot of paper by using the internet.

    Reply
    1. cjottawa

      Read Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson”. Those employees will find more meaningful work elsewhere, work that adds value instead of taking it away.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s