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TOWNPAGES: Community information sevices -- the Holy Grail

Story Filed: Wednesday, October 27, 1999 5:11 PM EST

OCT 27, 1999, M2 Communications - THE HOLY GRAIL? "No, we can't manage that yet... but we are very close!" Anyway according to Andrew Lyndon-Skeggs, as he addressed the 700 delegates at the conference hosted by the Cabinet Office Central I.T. Unit at BAFTA on 7 October.

Clearly what he had in mind had more to do with technology, touch screens, third generation mobile phones and ADSL lines than knights in shining armor. But the "pursuit is just as exciting".

The event afforded an opportunity for Andrew Lyndon-Skeggs to expound his views on the development of on-line community information services, a subject on which, as founder and President of TownPagesNet.com plc, he is one of the leading gurus.

The way forward has been outlined by the government in their White Paper, "Modernising Government", which decrees that 50% of all dealings with government shall be capable of electronic delivery by 2005, and 100% by 2008. In view of this, the guidance offered by Lyndon-Skeggs was both timely and welcome.

The prime ingredients of an on-line community service are "Information", "Communication" and "Design". The one stop shop concept is now a common goal, implying co-operation between several parties, with co-ordination of their respective sources of information. Quite likely this will result from public/private sector partnerships and it is important from the outset that the concept be comprehensive and available not only to the local community, but also to the wider national and international sphere. Public authorities need to promote themselves both within and beyond their local surrounds.

Communication, Lyndon-Skeggs stressed, involves more than just message boards and e-mail. It touches also on the way in which the service is conveyed to its users. Any worthwhile on- line service should be capable of multi access delivery, including not only PC's but also kiosks, interactive T.V. and WAP enabled mobile phones. Equally, the service must be interactive allowing users to conduct e-commerce, purchase tickets and enter content direct onto the system.

As such, an on-line information service becomes almost metaphysical in its nature: a product with no entity, available to its users whilst being created by its users, and capable of infinite expansion.

Design is all important for satisfactory operation. It needs to be attractive, clear and palatable; focused and searchable by menu and by search engine; database driven, with co-ordination of content and, ideally, the service should permit users to maintain control over their own content, to keep it regularly updated.

There are many on-line community services, but most are limited in extent. Examples include business listings, entertainment, tourism, transport, and on-line communities for specific towns or regions.

A community service that is more wide reaching in its style is the Town Pages information service. This sets out to supply "everything that you could reasonably wish to know about daily life in towns and cities." Focused both locally on 1300 UK towns and cities, and nationally in the form of an integrated portal, this service also has the tremendous advantage of being conveyed not only by PC, but also by means of touch screen kiosks, freely available to the public in prominent public locations.

Though independent, Town Pages also works in partnership with Councils throughout the country, making available their kiosks free of charge, and jointly building the service. In due course, electronic information may become universally available on a number of platforms. For the present, internet backed kiosks offer the only means of reaching the entire population.

Looking to the future, Lyndon-Skeggs, remarked that Vint Cerf, the original founding father of the Internet, was presently working on inter planetary internet, hoping to reach Mars by 2008. However, said Lyndon-Skeggs, "before turning our attention to green websites for Little Green Men on Mars, let's first perfect the service here on planet earth".

Notes to editors

TownPagesNet.com plc owns Town Pages UK Ltd., which operates TownPages, an interactive service providing comprehensive, up-to-date, locally focused information about specific towns and cities in the United Kingdom in a graphically pleasing format. On 5 May 1999, the company consummated the initial public offering of its securities in the US for gross proceeds of $22,000,000.

"Safe Harbor" statement under the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995: This release contains forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties including, but not limited to, the impact of competitive products and pricing, product demand and market acceptance, reliance on key strategic alliances, fluctuations in operating results and other risks detailed from time to time in the Company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

TownPages' website can be found at 

Copyright 1994-99 M2 COMMUNICATIONS LTD

CONTACT: Francoise James, TownPages Tel: +44 (0)1420 543468 Fax: +44 (0)1420 541322 E-mail: [email protected]

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