iBegin Source: Q&A with Ahmed Farooq

About 10 days ago, iBegin released a new service called iBegin Source, “a comprehensive source of nationwide business data”. As I think this is a very innovative way of aggregating and licensing local business information, I contacted Ahmed Farooq to ask him a few questions.

Q: Can you tell the Praized blog readers about who you are and what you do?

A: I am the Director of Enthropia Inc, a web-dev firm located in Toronto. We have roughly 20 people working with us.

Q: What is iBegin Source?

A: iBegin Source is about raw business data. Buying business data is not cheap (and it is woefully inaccurate). We have made the data affordable and have coupled it with an open system (allowing for much easier updates), aiming for more accurate data.

Q: Where did the idea for iBegin Source come from?

A: It actually came as a defensive play. As we worked on iBegin City sites, we realized that we were (in essence) at the mercy of other data providers. We ended up creating our own dataset and even our own geocoder.

Q: What are the data sources for the iBegin database?

A: We seed with the usual suspects – telco records, federal/state agencies. We then supplement these with extra databases (restaurant databases, business license filings, registrations, change of addresses, other purchased databases, etc). In the first week we had roughly 50 user-submitted updates.

Q: iBegin Source could be quite disruptive. What has been the reaction so far of major local data providers like Acxiom, InfoUSA or Localeze?

A: They are watching us. Publicly they are shrugging us off, but once more and more updates come through our system, it will get interesting.

Q: I especially like the track back update mechanism, the idea that all iBegin Source partners will work together to improve the database in the long run (a la Wikipedia almost). We know how much of an issue that is in local search data. How many sites (using iBegin Source) do you think you’ll need to reach critical mass, i.e. constant improvements and best data source out there?

A: The trackback is just one element of our ‘update mechanism’. Based on a churn rate of 3 million, I believe we need 1 million updates a year (2500 a day) to blow the rest out of the water. This number is a combination of user-submissions and trackback updates.

Q: iBegin Source feels like an open source project: for example, you source content from users, the more people use it, the stronger it becomes and it’s free for non-commercial usage. Yet, it’s not structured like other open source project I know (I’m thinking of Music Brainz). Have you thought about setting up iBegin Source as a non-profit organization before launching it or in the future?

A: Data acquisition is expensive. Very expensive. iBegin Source would simply collapse on a non-profit model. The best we can do is what we have now – a free download for non-commercial usage, hopefully pushing enthusiasts and hobbyists to build interesting local sites. We also intend on award free commercial licenses to the most intriguing sites.

Q: Do you think you’ll have a hard time convincing local search partners to work with you given that you already operate a local search destination site?

A: Some people do get confused. I’m sure TrueLocal has that headache too. But what better demo of our data and what you can do with it by showing it off on our own sites? Mind you, we are only in one four cities (two of them Canadian), and in none of the major US markets.

Q: Right now, you offer data for the whole US market. What countries are next?

A: On the drawing board are Canada, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Italy, and a few more. Estimated time of arrival is unknown at this point.

Thank you Ahmed!

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