Content Missing From the Web

The Web does not have everything.

Phone Directories Online

Phone directories have had one serious shortcoming: They didn’t include all the numbers the phone company knows and makes public for listings. When you get a phone, the listing was public in three days.

Some years ago, I volunteered for a political campaign at its headquarters. I knew the phone number. I was there at least a month when I decided to check the listing in an online directory. Couldn’t find it. A few online phone directories competed and none of them had it. I could get it at 411 or 555-1212 (I forgot which one I tested), but not from online directories which people increasingly were using. (People may be calling 411 or 555-1212 even less nowadays, making online directories even more important by default. I mentioned 411 to someone ca. 2016 and he didn't know what that is.)

The online directories are extensive, but the ones I’ve seen don’t say where they get their information and many of their listings appear to be old and wrong. They often list relationships among people, which helps in identifying whether someone with a common name is who you want, but I can’t tell whether new listings are included. While many paper phone books include editorial closing dates, the dates as of when the listings were up to date, I have not seen such dates in the online directories.

Cell number lists are bad, too. When I had a number for four years, some online list still had someone else’s name for it. Granted that I don’t publish it widely, and that when I got it I promptly made the number private, but I didn’t set the privacy until I had bought it from a store, to the staff of which I gave my name while they activated the phone getting a number for it and put the data on a machine-printed receipt, and the carrier (whoever that was) had my name with the number, and long afterwards I called someone who apparently knew my name from caller ID on their landline. So it wasn’t that private, yet the online number lists are wrong at least four years after I got the phone and the number.

I looked up an older lawyer who no longer praactices. For months, I looked. He might be dead. When I called the likeliest number, it offered me other servicdes in specialties he might have had. So I guess he turned his office number over to a company that sells to other companies the calls that are dialed to his office. Okay, but why is the listing unchanged? I wrote to his office but my mail was returned as undeliverable, which usually happens when it’s been more than a year. I see a residential address he probably left a decade or two ago, maybe more. The building was sold.

I looked up a phone number because I got a call from it and thought it might be in use for spam calls. A website of unknown reliability says its carrier is Global Crossing Local Services, Inc.-NY. If that's part of the Global Crossing carrier that was sold in 2011 and essentially disappeared, the website is apparently out of date by roughly nine years and counting. Some company is not updating its online directory, giving us a delay hardly normal on the Web.

Why are numbers missing and outdated? I don’t know, but I have a guess. The phone company with the customers is glad to provide the information to the directory websites, but wants a nice piece of change for the data and updates. The online companies all think it is too pricey. No deal.

Directories of directories exist, such as VoiceNation, a list from MIT, Cyndi’s List, and one just called Telephone Directories. But I look for a number by typing someone’s name into a search engine. If they’re not famous, they hardly appear in the search results, but phone listings are included. If some directories have that person’s nummber but don’t expose it in search engine results, users are unlikely to visit a directory and try it.

Older People’s Interests

Older people have interests and perspectives, but are less comfortable using computers and accessing the Internet when they don’t need to. Many accept using email but avoid the Web.

Health websites abound but my impression is that plenty of other subjects could be treated in ways that appeal to older people. Historical treatments focusing on when older people were younger, maybe thirty to seventy years ago, with memorable images, would help. Accessibility and other design issues would make websites more palatable.

Online Industry Service Provider Directories

Twice, I wanted to choose a provider of a Web service and needed a list or directory as a starting point. But the lists available were lame.

Articles all over the Web recommend a dozen or so companies from which I could select. But they make money from referral links. If I like what I read, then I might click a link taking me to the provider’s website. If I then become a customer through that link, the provider pays a referral fee to the website where I read about the firm. But that makes it likely that the recommendations are driven not by what should matter to me but by the referral fee being paid to the website making the recommendation. And this is not theoretical. When I read a recommendation that says that the service provider is committed to their client’s success, I recognize that as fluff that an independent reviewer could not have generated from, say, blind comparative tests of customer service phones. Good tests tend to be expensive, and if they did those tests they’d want to show off their effort and enhance the credibility of their conclusions. They don’t. It’s cheaper and easier to get blurbs from the companies to be reviewed. The companies are doubtledsss delighted to supply the blurbs; and they can lie about deals while limiting their liability for those deals.

Some directories have almost no information besides name and basic contact information, with little about what industry segment they serve. A directory listing every business in a county is usually of that type. A user might have to contact twenty companies to find one in the specific industry needed.

I encountered this problem when searching for a web hosting service years ago and, more recently, a supplier of advertisements I could publish on my websites so I could earn income from carrying the ads. Compiling lists I could use took me many hours. I made them available online for other users. But other people didn’t do that before me, leading to a lot of duplicated effort, a waste. Some print directories for other industries are very good, but they’re generally expensive and not available for all industries, especially, as far as I know, not for these particular industries. We need better.