July 16, 2006

Local search – making people think like computers

Filed under: city guides, local search, yellow pages — Rakesh Agrawal @ 8:58 pm

Quick, what’s the ZIP code for Georgetown? How about Clarendon?

Unless you live in one of these areas, chances are you don’t know. I might as well have asked you for the longitude and latitude. Yet almost every local search product requires people to think like computers – to type in a ZIP code to set their location to begin searching. As an alternative, you can type in a city and state. Then you’ll likely get results far from where you want to be, based on the center of the city.

When I go out, I think “I want to go to Georgetown” or Ballston or Tyson’s or Penn Quarter. I have no idea what the ZIP code for any of those areas is. This method of searching doesn’t work for residents, much less visitors.

It wouldn’t be that hard for search engines to accomodate such searches. Vindigo has been doing it for handheld devices for some time. Sure, there will be some disagreement over where the exact center of a neighborhood is. But even an approximation would deliver much better results in a more user friendly way than you get today.

On the flip side, search engines make it more difficult than it needs to be when they return results. Do a search for Chicken Out in 22203 (Ballston) and you’ll see that it’s at 4238 Wilson Blvd. It’s one click to map it. But if the result also stated that Chicken Out was at Ballston Common Mall, people familiar with the area would know where it is without the extra click.

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  1. Yea, you think it would be a cinch for them to cross-reference a white pages for names of locations like malls and other public named areas and add that to a search result.

    This also just gave me another idea–what about adding visible landmarks to Mapquest or other point-to-point driving directions to help people navigate a bit easier?

    Comment by Jason Allen — July 17, 2006 @ 11:33 am

  2. [...] written before about how local search forces people to think like computers. It’s easy to assign a ZIP code using rules that the post office has created. Unlike tagging, [...]

    Pingback by Searching vs. browsing « reDesign — February 7, 2007 @ 8:38 am

  3. [...] Clear identification of neighborhoods. Now, if you could only search by neighborhood names. I’m a big fan of Web services reflecting the way people talk. [...]

    Pingback by Yahoo's new, improved maps « reDesign — May 16, 2007 @ 11:30 am

  4. [...] long complained that ZIP codes are a terrible crutch used by programmers. Neighborhoods are a much more human way to [...]

    Pingback by Search your neighborhood on Google Maps « reDesign — May 21, 2007 @ 7:49 pm

  5. [...] answer, in theory, lies in natural language search. I’ve written before about how search engines force people to think like computers. Natural language search tries to teach computers to think like people. The most talked about [...]

    Pingback by Searching for a search engine that understands deep dish pizza « reDesign — December 11, 2007 @ 8:24 pm

  6. [...] and landmarks are important because they make maps more in line with the way people think, instead of the way that computers operate. This change also means that businesses won’t have [...]

    Pingback by Past, present and future of online maps « reDesign — August 5, 2009 @ 7:04 pm

  7. It will also increase the ranking of your website on search engines and will drive more traffic to your website.
    But unfortunately not every request will get approved.
    You need to make your potential customers aware of your products and services to ensure that they recognize them as valid solutions to their everyday problems.

    Comment by Google — July 7, 2014 @ 5:34 pm

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