Telstra will close down its little-used search engine and merge its data with Google Maps. And not a moment too soon. Several years late, in fact.
Have you ever visited a Sensis.com.au website? Chances are you have, and like me, you've left feeling utterly disappointed and wondering why Telstra even bothered.
Sensis, owned by Telstra, manage some of Australia's leading offline directories like Yellow Pages and White Pages. It also recently acquired Trading Post in a vain effort to compete with eBay.
While Sensis continues to chop down forests and distribute thousands of copies of the White and Yellow Pages to every human (living or dead) in Australia (we received three copies of the Yellow Pages this year, even though I tried this to opt-out), its monopoly position in print hasn't transitioned to the web as well as it would have liked.
The following announcement from Sensis and Google therefore came as no surprise to me. The press release is over a page long, but I'll sum it up for you in two points: Coming early next year, Google will power the search on sensis.com.au, and Yellow Pages business listings will be available in Google Maps.
Sensis will try to convince you that they didn't need Google, but the reality is they did. Yellow Pages, White Pages and Trading Post - you name them, and the chances are, the websites are difficult to use and nowhere near as effective at helping you find information as Google is. Furthermore, despite being owned by the company's biggest telco, Sensis hasn't done a great job of making their data available on mobiles -- try accessing Sensis-run sites on your iPhone and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Now, with Yellow Pages results provided by Google, there's no good reason to visit the Sensis portal at all (except maybe for a White Pages lookup). The people who know how to do search properly -- Google -- will be able to help you find businesses in Telstra's extensive directory with laser-sharp focus.
If Sensis wanted to (and they presumably did) keep charging customers top dollar for advertising, a deal with Google was a no-brainer. Visibility on Google Maps gives Yellow Pages customers access to many more eye-balls (2.6 million Australians each month according to Roy Morgan), and, well, lets face it, the future of print directories isn't rosy.
What's not clear from the announcement however is what this means for Google Maps and TrueLocal integration. We've asked Google for clarification.
The announcement also raises several other questions for Sensis shareholders like: what will become of Sensis's own mapping site, Whereis? And when will Sensis realise that the Trading Post, as it stands, is no match for eBay? (Not that we're discouraging Telstra from running Trading Post -- at least it provides some competition for eBay, which has shown an even greater willingness than Telstra to exploit its quasi-monopoly position for profit.)
Sensis' online strategy is eerily similar to Microsoft's own failed online strategy. Now, finally, Sensis has realised that it can't compete with Google, and has realised that's it's better to have a smaller slice of a larger pie rather than an empty plate. Now, what about handing Google your White Pages database for some slick integration? I'd love to be able to look up a listing on White Pages and be presented with directions on how to get there from my current location on Google Maps.