WhatsApp testing company directory (yellow pages). It will be a big problem.


The youngest of us will have no idea what the “yellow pages” mean. Let’s get everyone on the same page first.

Telephone directory

For those of us who grew up in the 90s, there was a magic book called the phone book. This book had the landline number of every person in the country, clearly printed next to the name of their government.

I can only imagine the riots that would begin if the mobile network operators attempted the same. A book listing each cell phone number and the name it was registered under? Not at this age.

The phone book was amazing the way it was, but they managed to soften its appeal. They added a few more pages to it that really blew up the usefulness of the directory.

The yellow Pages

The additional pages were indeed yellow in color. Hence the name. These pages list companies and professional firms by category in alphabetical order.

It doesn’t sound impressive now, but remember most of us didn’t have internet back then. Looking for a product / service that you didn’t buy frequently, you had to walk around town, knocking on different doors until you found one that sold what you were looking for. The yellow pages fixed this problem.

The yellow pages in the internet age

You would think that because we can do everything on Google these days, business listings would be useless, but you would be wrong.

To date, many Zimbabwean businesses do not have a web presence. You can Google anything you want, you won’t find them.

The old physical yellow pages we had in the 90s are long gone. They are available online now, but they are not as comprehensive / useful as they were then.

So in this country we have lost the physical yellow pages and got the less useful online yellow pages. It’s crazy but in many cases it’s harder to find novelty merchants today than it was in the 90s.

A middle-aged man with a thick book would find a sculptor in Arcturus faster than you could on your PC.

WhatsApp could offer a solution

While many Zim businesses do not have a web presence, almost all of them have WhatsApp accounts. They may not yet be taking advantage of the business features of WhatsApp, but at the very least, the merchants themselves have personal WhatsApp accounts.

Currently in Zimbabwe, most entrepreneurs use groups on WhatsApp to market their products. There are thousands and thousands of business groups where business people meet to trade.

The problem is that groups are limited to 256 participants. Plus, there’s really no way to find out about these bands if you don’t already know someone there.

So right now we have companies, traders and sellers on WhatsApp trying to market their products. We also have consumers looking for various products / services and coming back empty. The two groups of people looked for each other and went up empty.

WhatsApp is testing a feature that could be the solution to our little problem.

Yellow pages on WhatsApp

CEO of WhatsApp on Twitter

The pilot is in Brazil and they say the feedback they receive will determine next steps with the feature. I predict the feature will be popular enough to have a worldwide release before the end of 2022. It’s fast for WhatsApp.

WhatsApp tries to help us sort the businesses on WhatsApp by category and alphabetically. Exactly like the yellow pages.

This would solve the crisis in Zimbabwe. Businesses would have better visibility and consumers would be better able to easily find and compare suppliers.

Of course, this only solves the discovery problem, not the delivery problem. The current solutions that we have will remain as they are. Most of the merchants in our WhatsApp groups don’t offer overnight delivery like Amazon. WhatsApp can’t help us with that.

What do you think though? Do you think this feature is as popular and useful as I imagine it to be? Let me know in the comments below.

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