Jigsaw Declares Data Independence, Gives Company Info Away for Free

Jun 10, 2008

With all of the momentous world events that have been in the news of late, from presidential elections to natural disasters, this past Wednesday may have come and gone without you even realizing that a new holiday had been declared. It was Data Independence Data—at least according to business information and data services company, Jigsaw. The company marked the occasion by dressing its founders in powdered wigs and Revolution-era waistcoats and breeches, and parading them through San Francisco’s eclectic Haight-Ashbury district. And, of course, the whole affair was filmed and posted on YouTube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=2NmW51nF6kE).

The substance behind this thoroughly entertaining and creative announcement is Jigsaw’s decision to offer all of the company information available on its website, www.jigsaw.com, for free. Jigsaw has been an online resource for business contact and company information since 2004. Jigsaw applies the Wikipedia model to business information: it has built a massive database of company information (including name, URL, annual revenue, industry, etc.) exclusively through user-generated contributions. Access to this trove of information can be bought, or it can be earned through one’s own contributions to the endeavor. Last week’s announcement heralded the dawn of Jigsaw’s information on more than a million companies being available for free.

Jigsaw’s co-founder Jim Fowler paints a grim picture of the current state of business information. Company data identical to that available on Jigsaw can be found online in clunky ad-supported directories, or it has to be purchased from subscription services, such as Hoover’s, often for a one-time-only usage. Fowler calls these options "time-consuming and costly," and they lack an adequate process for integrating the information into the data that a person or a company already owns.

Jigsaw’s Open Data Initiative allows users to download up to 50,000 company records at a time (and places no limit on the total number of records they can download). The records can then be imported into business applications ranging from a simple contact database in an email system to a full-blown enterprise CRM system. Fowler believes this offering will be particularly appealing to small and medium business, which often don’t have the time or capital resources required to undertake a massive research project.

The inevitable question underlying Jigsaw’s Open Data Initiative is, "Why?" It’s Fowler’s belief that opening up Jigsaw’s reputable, high-quality trove of company information will raise enough awareness of (and appreciation for) Jigsaw as a brand that users will come back for its revenue-generating services, such as subscriptions to its database of contact information and its data cleaning and maintenance services.

Jigsaw is partnering with a number of on-demand CRM vendors—including Entellium, Landslide, Maximizer, NetSuite, Oracle, Sage, and SugarCRM—to facilitate the integration of its company information database. Jigsaw fully expects to offer services to premise-based CRM systems at some point in the future.

Speaking of the future, Fowler gives one more glimpse into where he believes Jigsaw’s Open Data Initiative is headed: "Eventually, our contact data will become a commodity," he says. With the prospect of the liberation of Jigsaw’s nearly 9 million contact numbers looming on the horizon, one can’t help but wonder just how much of a business-information revolution we’re in for.