While I was out and about last night, I happened to notice a CDROM stand on the counter of a local print and copy shop. It was a free CD version of “Names & Numbers”, one of the local telephone directories. Curious, I picked it up and took it home to give it a run-through.
Though I have only taken a cursory glance over it, I am actually fairly impressed. Though the device has a Windows autorun and installer built in, it can also be run off the CD without needing to be installed. At heart it seems to be implemented in simple HTML, meaning that it should be compatible with anything that has a CDROM drive and a web browser.
Even the directory pages themselves are in HTML—not some encapsulated, DRMed format that can only be read or searched with an executable. (A far cry from some early PC phone book apps I played with back in the late ‘80s to early ‘90s.) They’re formatted to impersonate the look of a white pages or yellow pages page, but at heart they’re unencrypted plain vanilla HTML; viewing source reveals the names, addresses, and phone numbers of everyone right there in plain text (albeit with a lot of HTML style stuff surrounding that text). The white pages and textual entries in the yellow pages could quite readily be data mined if someone wrote the right programs
There is also a search box that lets you search the directory—it takes longer if you’re browsing on CD than if you install it on the hard drive, of course. It seems to work pretty well. In fact, it works better than the search function on Names & Numbers’s website, which couldn’t find my uncle’s number when I punched his name in at all whereas the one on the CD pulled it right up.
I have a number of ordinary tree-killing paper phone books in my apartment—I can’t seem to avoid getting them; they get left on my doorstep every so often whether I want them or not. And I’m not entirely averse to having them.
Sometimes I’ll still go and look in one from time to time—while it’s easy to dig up the phone number of any specific place online if I know the name (even if I’m away from the ‘net, I can text the name to 466453 and have Google look it up for me), paper phonebooks still rule the roost when it comes to having all the numbers in a given yellow pages category available at my fingertips at once. (I should get around to sticking one in my car, for use with my cell phone when I’m not able to get to the Internet, too.)
But this might just be a better alternative to the paper phone book for me. I get the advantage of all the numbers in a category at my fingertips, plus I can copy and paste the phone number into Google Voice to make a call.
And who knows, it could save some trees.