Face it. Phonebooks aren’t all that.

I recently attended refresher workshops on SEO and WordPress workshops with Tommy Landry, founder of Return on Now. He’s plugged in on everything SEO. I don’t how many times I heard him say that if a theme wasn’t responsive, he wouldn’t even consider using it for clients’ sites. Considering that xx% of all mobile phones were “smart” last year and that share has risen to xx+% this year (SOURCE?), it’s not surprising that in so many words Search Engine Journal is reiterating the old gem that content is king.

 

Also, recently I saw a stack of phonebooks at a service station used as a doorstop. My brain said, Ha. Phonebooks aren’t responsive.

 

My brain thinks in tweets.

 

I tried to back track that logic below. Lemme know how I did, eh?

 

HEAD: Face it. Phonebooks aren’t helpful. (1980s edition)

 

How many times have you opened the phonebook knowing full well you weren’t going to find what you were looking for? But as an exercise in fait accompli, futility, and Zen acceptance of what is, you did it anyway, right before you wound up calling 555.1212 and paying the at-this-point-totally-worth-every-red-cent-fee to have someone with a computer look it up for you.

 

While you were rifling through its pages, you might have noticed all the trades naming their businesses with leading digits and A’s — AAA Plumbing, A-Star Tree Trimming, 123 Air Conditioning Repair — so they’d lead the list. Paleo keyword stuffing.

 

You couldn’t know who was worth your call and who wasn’t. Some had ads. That just meant that they paid more. Just like it means today. You might reason that if they could afford to pay more it was because business was going well because they did good work. But all you could know for sure is that they paid more. No social proof. No verifiable customer testimonials.

 

When you’re desperate for a plumber, references have little value (in a pre-digital society).

 

Suppose, though, your next door neighbor is the reason you’re desperate for a plumber. His repairs confounded the situation and he’s offered to pay for a professional. He’s got a guy. He doesn’t know the guy’s number, just his last name. Out comes the phone book — because it arrives at your doorstep unbidden every few months, it’s got top-of-mind priority over 411 — P for Plumber. You can’t find your neighbor’s guy. Maybe he’s in a neighboring city covered by a different book. Maybe he spells his name differently. Maybe he’s covered by a competing telco that doesn’t distribute to your neighborhood. Maybe he’s got such good word-of-mouth business that he’s not even in the book. Nah. Everybody’s in the book.

 

Flustered, you remember that you vowed never to use the freaking phonebook again, and you call information.

 

Face it. Phonebooks aren’t helpful.

 

HEAD: Face it. Phonebooks aren’t eco. (1990s edition)

 

Every few months, you get a foot-high ream of pulpy yellow paper on your doorstep. Can anybody tell me why we couldn’t recycle them?

 

Face it. Phonebooks aren’t eco.

 

HEAD: Face it. Phonebooks aren’t economical. (2000s edition)

 

You can’t measure ROI on a phonebook ad. If you ever could. When was the last time you completed one of those intake questionnaires that ask,

 

How did you hear about us?

___ Billboard

___ Radio

___ Newspaper

___ Phonebook

___ Facebook

___ Twitter

___ Blog

___ Other site: ______

___ Friend: _________

 

I don’t remember either.

 

Let’s talk about hyper-local. Suppose I needed a plumber in Austin in the early 00s. I’m new in town. I don’t know my neighbors. I don’t know street names. I don’t have a MAPSCO. I don’t have time to get the foldy-map from my glove compartment. Out comes the phonebook. P for plumber. I call the first listing that strikes my arbitrary fancy. I keep calling numbers until someone answers and is available. But I’m in the northern part of the city and they’re in the eastern part, 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. One of us is paying for travel time and gas. Guess who.

 

New-ish technology allows me to combine location-based targeting with extensive databases of customer reviews and ratings and online scheduling services to find a plumber nearby, who’s highly referred, who’s available within my schedule, and with published rates.

 

Face it. Phonebooks aren’t economical.

 

What’s fascinating to me is that we live in a world where some people are still using the phonebook. Or trying to anyways.

 

They either don’t have access to the tech — the internet, the smartphone, the data services, the funds for same — or to the know-how to use all of it in this integrated way. And they still have to call information to have someone with a computer look it up for them. Because they still can’t find it in the phone book.

 

What’s really astounding to me is that we live in a world where some people don’t have plumbing.

 

HEAD: Face it. Phonebooks aren’t responsive. (2013 edition)

 

What’s really funny to me is that we live in a world where some people, most, won’t know that’s a punchline.

 

Of course phonebooks aren’t responsive. The phonebook UI (user interface) is flimsy paper with ink that smears all over your fingertips and the flat of your palm and spreads to your face and has the smell of newsprint.

 

That’s something mobile can’t claim (yet) — smell-o-vision.

 

Responsiveness refers to the ability of a site, online service, or application to automagically resize to the screen that’s requested it. So, whether you’re on a mobile phone with a three-inch screen or a tablet or a 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt display, the content will be served to you in a pleasing way that doesn’t leave a lot of goofy white space or other ugly hiccups. That’s all handled in the code behind the curtain. As mobile becomes more and more ubiquitous as a platform, open-source communities (those angels who work together for free to create and improve computer stuff, just for the sheer joy of the work (I know, go figure)) are gabbling about responsiveness.

 

So, finally, that’s why I won’t use phonebooks. Face it. They’re not responsive.