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The site was founded by John Lewis, who envisaged a free online service as an alternative to the expensive "192" directory enquiries number operated by BT and several other incumbent telecom operators. The monopoly status of directory enquiries (information) services was the subject of an Oftel deregulation project which brought together interested parties from both sides of the industry; data providers and potential service providers. The data was eventually deregulated and made available to non-telecom companies from 1 January 1999. Ltd launched the original version of its site in April of that year.

The original revenue model for was based on key word linking to advertising content very much like the Google Adwords service that exists today. Users searching for a listing would be presented with the result accompanied by advertising content relevant to the search. E.g. a search for a solicitor may result in adverting for other legal services, home-mover information etc. A person looking for the telephone number of a local motor dealership would be served advertising that was motor related; e.g. AA membership, manufacturer advertising, finance deals etc.

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