This is the third in a four-part look at Dan Bricklin's proposal for SMBmeta, a "small to midsize business metadata" initiative. Last time, we looked at the SMBmeta Ecosystem, a group of services to make SMBmeta data useful to more people which should attract the attention of more businesses.
The original premise behind the initiative is that SMBs are at a great disadvantage when it comes to online search engines and directories because they don't have the expertise to ensure that the best information is provided to the search and directory services organizations (Google, Yahoo, etc.). In turn this means that potential customers are frustrated in attempts to locate businesses when they're in need of services. Trying to find, for example, the closest dry cleaner that does on-site leather cleaning can be a frustrating experience with today's Web search and directory tools.
But in reality, it can be just as time-consuming and frustrating to find big businesses also - especially bricks-and-mortar locations that are close to where you live or work. Here's just one example. Suppose you're away from home (at a trade show, for example) and you'd like to pick up a copy of a newspaper that provides daily IT news in its business section (for example, the "San Jose Mercury News" or the "Austin American-Statesman") - where would you go to find one? Neither the Merc nor the AAS Web sites will tell you where to buy the paper in Chicago or New York. The concierge at your hotel might know of someplace that sells papers but if only there were a listing you could find of retail businesses within a mile or so of your hotel that carried out-of-town newspapers. You could then quickly find out (by calling) which ones had the papers you were interested in and pay them a visit.
Here's another example. Same situation, you're out of town at a trade show. You want to pick up a quick lunch so you'd like to find a fast food place within a block or two of the show venue. You could visit mcdonalds.com, wendys.com, jackinthebox.com, and burgerking.com and enter the show venue's address to find the closest shop, write them all down and determine which is the shortest walk. Or you could go to an SMBmeta-enabled online directory and find all the fast-food places within two blocks of your current location - and probably see them all on a map.
There are, though, more than 30,000 local McDonald's restaurants. Creating the SMBmeta.xml file for mcdonalds.com would be labor intensive as well as bandwidth intensive. Searching through that file every time you wanted to find the closest "Mickey D's" would render the technology fairly useless. But the SMBmeta Ecosystem we talked about in the last issue would help. An SMBmeta Registry would hold all of the data available on all the companies that it could reach through spidering the Web. A user would only need to go to his or her favorite registry to find the information they want.
Additionally, the SMBmeta Proxy service could be utilized by large corporations, such as McDonald's. Since the restaurants in different areas feature different, localized menus, operating hours, payment methods, etc. getting all of the details into one SMBmeta.xml file would be a hazardous undertaking - too many chances for an error. But the SMBmeta Proxy allows for finding data other than by simply spidering smbmeta.xml files so that McDonald's (or other large organizations) could break up and precategorize its information.
But why limit this to corporations? Why not adapt this for individuals also? We'll look at that possibility next time.