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Brownbook directory lets you get in on the action

The newly-launched site takes a wiki approach, allowing users to edit and update business listings and offer reviews. But so far anyway, those reviews are lacking.

Brownbook, a global business directory that allows users to edit information about companies, launched recently for visitors all over the world.

According to the company, Brownbook aims to combine the power of wikis, peer production, and social networking to change the way business directories are presented online. Instead of providing a directory for users, Brownbook allows users to edit and update business listings, provide reviews with video and photos, and receive rewards by commenting on businesses.

The premise sounds simple enough and some may think it's interesting, but after using it for a while, I'm not quite sold on its usefulness. I perused the site, looked for different companies, read reviews scattered across the service, and found myself asking the same question each time: what value does this site really provide?

It's not that a business directory isn't nice, but there are a slew of them across the Web, like Yellowpages.com and Yahoo's business directory, which present pertinent information in a much nicer package.

Brownbook claims that over 27 million businesses have already been indexed. But when I searched for a major firm like Wal-Mart, the site returned a results page that listed Canadian stores and their phone numbers, but little else. That may be fine for Canadian customers who want to know a particular store's phone number, but the rest of the world is left out. And after viewing incomplete information about each store, I quickly realized that it's much easier to use Wal-Mart's store locator to find important information instead of Brownbook.

Being able to add a business and comment on that business is the real draw of Brownbook. But after searching through the site for quite some time without finding any useful review, I can't help but wonder if people are willing to review a major accounting firm or Ford dealership like they review hotels on TripAdvisor or restaurants on Yelp. I doubt it.

That said, adding a review was made simple by clicking the "Add a review" link and changing or adding information about a particular company is as easy as filling out a form and confirming the changes. That simplicity was welcome and could help the company grow as more people learn about the site.

But at its core, Brownbook is a directory site and so far, I just don't see any reason to use it as such. The idea of having a place to find important information about a particular company or franchise like mailing address, phone number, and location is fine, but with other services across the Web that present that information in a much cleaner way, I don't see a reason to use the site. And considering Brownbook is inherently subject to angry customers and bias, I'm not convinced the site can become a trusted source of important business information.