It’s time we extend the robots.txt concept to information about businesses.
First, let’s take a quick detour into robots.txt for a second —
In order to tell a search engine how to spider a Web site (or not), webmasters can stick a text file called “robots.txt” in their root directory with information spiders can use. This works because it’s useful and it’s ridiculously simple — everyone sticks the same file, named the same thing, in the same place. It’s so simple, it can’t NOT work.
MT-Blacklist does the same thing. You can put your blacklist in a text file called “blacklist.txt” in the root of your site so people can see what you’re blocking.
For the sake of standards, it is recommended that the file be named blacklist.txt and reside in the root directory of your website. The possible network effect here is certainly delicious.
This isn’t complicated — stick the same info in the same place and people will know where to get it.
Okay, back to the point —
Lets make up an XML spec for information about your business. Like this:
1600 Pennsylvania Ave
Obviously, this is absurdly simple, but you get the idea. You could have fields for your business phone number, fax number, general email, directions on how to get to your office, stock ticker symbol, customer service phone number, etc. Essentially, anything anyone would want to know about your business and for which they would (1) have to look up on your Web site, or (2) make a phone call to your receptionist.
Now, lets all put this file in the root of our Web site and call it “info.xml.” That way we all know where it is, and we can all retrieve it. Now, every business has a common URL pattern where a program can find easily digestable information about the business. It’s not hard to imagine what we could do with this.
For instance, Outlook could parse the domain name of the email address of all your contacts, go looking for this file for each one, then store the information with the contact (refreshing it every 30 days or so).
Online white and yellow pages could have a field day with it — you just give them your URL, and all your information is self-updating. Search engines could present this information alongside search results for your company. Etc.
Of course, this only works if everyone does it. And here, my friends, is the one, single thing that would have to happen for everyone to do it: Google adopts it. That’s it. If Google announced tomorrow that they were going to do something like this, and released the spec for it, we’d see info.xml files start to hit the Web within a few hours. We’d have massive saturation within a month.
Google is already pushing beyond search with localization results. They’re nailing down addresses of sites they visit, then presenting them in graduated radii from the city center.
Why not eliminate the parsing step and just ask people to put their actual address in a file in a common location? And while they’re at it, have them put a bunch more information there as well. Once search engines starting spidering and parsing this stuff, it’s amazing the level of detail and accuracy you could get for online directories and other business information sources.
And, again, the only thing standing between this idea and reality is Google. Google is such a juggernaut that they could — in the words of Jean Luc Picard — “make it so” just by announcing that they wanted to it to happen. Companies would fall all over themselves to deliver it. Like Microsoft, Google is in a position to drive standards simply by virtue of its position.
So, Google, snap to it. The world is waiting.