Monday, January 19, 2009

Some Good Ideas Just Take Time

There is a popular quotation about Cincinnati that came to mind a few weeks ago when I read that Cincinnati Bell announced they have now determined that they would no longer need to publish a printed edition of the “White Pages.” The quote, attributed to either Mark Twain or Will Rogers - it matters not - reads, “When the end of the world comes, I want to be in Cincinnati because it's always twenty years behind the times.”

The company, in their application to the PUCO, noted that most people now get their telephone listing information on line or from some other service rather than relying on the paper and ink tome that is distributed each year. While some might think that this is innovative thinking from one of the area’s high tech leaders, I had a little chuckle. What took us so long?

Beginning in 1975, France began an ambitious project to update the nation’s aging telephone system. This led to the creation of electronic phone books. Called Minitel, the telephone company customers were given a custom designed terminal for free. While it was not a computer as we know it, it did have a small screen and keyboard and was attached to the incoming telephone line. So some 34 years ago, France Telecom reasoned that it would be cheaper in the long run to give away free terminals and teach its customers how to look up telephone listings on the terminal instead of continuing to print and ship millions of phone books each year.

Over the years the French system has undergone many iterations and today half of the 60 million telephone customers in France use an electroninc telephone book.

For sure it is always dangerous to compare private industry with state supported competition. Nevertheless there are many technologies in place around the world that make some of the “advanced” technology here in the US look very dated.

As long as we are on the subject of telephone books, do you think they will also stop the delivery of the “Yellow Pages,” “The Yellow Book,” “The REAL Yellow Pages,” “The Pink Pages,” “The Blue Pages,” and “The Partiot Indiana Business Directory” to our porches anytime soon? There is a National Forest worth of trees to be saved if they do.

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