Customers of a number of leading CRM (customer relationship management) systems will be able to import large sets of company contact data at no charge through a service from data provider Jigsaw.
The company's "Open Data Initiative," being announced Wednesday, will allow users to export the data in file formats compatible with Salesforce, SugarCRM, Oracle CRM On Demand, Intellium, Maximizer, Sage's ACT, Landslide and NetSuite.
Jigsaw differs from other contact-list companies, as it builds its online database through contributions from members. The new service will provide the ability to download company information based on factors including geographic location, industry, sub-industry and the number of employees, according to a data sheet.
Jigsaw is also planning to publish APIs (application programming interfaces) that software developers can use to connect with its database.
The new service surpasses the capabilities of an online phone book, or other public sources, according to the company.
"You can go to a lot of places and get company data. The big difference is, go try to download data from anywhere," said Jim Fowler, Jigsaw's CEO. "From here you can download 50,000 records at one time, and it's free."
But the San Mateo, California, company's offer has limitations. It is giving away company-level contact information, but will continue to sell its much more valuable, 8 million-plus stockpile of individual contact records.
It plans to make money off the free information by selling data cleansing and updating services, according to Fowler.
"Some people will try to clean it themselves," he acknowledged. "We're going to try and price [the services] reasonably."
The Open Data Initiative is the latest marketing effort for Jigsaw, which has drawn its share of criticism since launching in 2004, but has enjoyed strong growth. The venture capital-backed company said it will reach profitability in the third quarter.
Its community-driven contact database might seem counterintuitive, as salespeople are "not altruists," Fowler acknowledged. "What we had to do is have a system that rewarded and punished. You need points in order to get the data off that you covet," he said.
Users earn points by uploading data, cleaning out bad data, or simply purchasing it: "When they don't want to add, they just buy."
The site's roughly 400,000 members tend to be self-policing, and help keep the data accurate, according to Fowler. The community's "best members" become annoyed when people enter bad information. "You can do a very little bit of damage to the database, but very quickly our community stops you," he said.
The company plans to follow up the Open Data Initiative with a big international push, he said. "The main thing for us is we want to make this global," Fowler said. "A global, gigantic Rolodex."
But Jigsaw has come under fire for its business model, since members have an incentive to upload the personal information of other people.
Fowler has responded by saying the company's business model is more transparent than competitors', because it allows anyone to see whether they are in the database, and it will remove information if it has been added illegally or in violation of an employment or confidentiality agreement.