At least the internet never turns into a pile of grey sludge on your doorstep

This is rainy season in San Francisco. It’s also, unfortunately, the time of year when Pacific Bell SBC at&t delivers new yellow pages.

I just about stopped using the yellow pages nearly a decade ago, long before I started working at a search engine and long before there was good integration of local information with general searches. Certainly by the time I had always-on internet access at home, I gave up using a printed yellow pages except in the rarest of cases. If the local business has a website — almost always true for a restaurant, for example — and you can find it, the web is great. If it doesn’t, the presence of online yellow pages means you’ll at least get the basic contact information and, in some categories, third party reviews and discussion.

On the other hand, I have at least one friend who swears by the physical yellow pages these days. He loves how easy it is to find the big, credible players, because they buy display ads. And those big ads contain lots of information, often including open hours, manufacturers whose products the store carries, a map, and details that might give you a feel for the business. Exactly what you’d hope to find on a website.

Many of those display ads are placed by local businesses that don’t have a website. For example, one of our local hardware stores (Tuggey’s on 24th) has no website and the other (Cliff’s Variety on Castro) appears to have added a website only in the past few weeks. (Go, Cliff’s!)

So, when this year’s yellow pages turned to a pile of liquidy grey sludge after a couple of hours of waiting for us on the front steps, I wasn’t particularly disappointed. What surprises me is the people who would still be disappointed. And more surprising are the merchants who spend a significant amount of money to reach those people, but don’t even attempt to reach people like me.