Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Twilight Zone - Mobile Local Search

Imagine if you will... you get out of the Christopher Street stop on the 1 line with only a general idea of where you're going. You have the name of the bar/restaurant but it's a relatively new place and you don't remember the exact address. If you know the west village this is an area, which lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of man's knowledge.

What I was trying to do was find BarBlanc - which like most restaurants is much better at making drinks and brie cheese fingerling potato puree than websites. After speaking at Search Engine Strategies on Monday, I was thinking a lot about mobile search, so naturally when I realized I was lost I quickly struck the pose of the benighted mobile searcher - head down on the street corner tapping away while listening to music. I knew my sister was not around to call and ask and I personally hate calling 411 when on a street corner - not until Audeo links to a listings database and I can wear a white apple necktie that intercepts nerve impulses meaning to be sent down the arcuate fasciculus to have keywords appear in a page or an voice search system will I like that search experience (BTW, wikipedia makes for great neuro-quackery). Much simpler, 411 is only as good as the listing system, and new restaurants are abominable about having their info on anything but uncrawled flash websites that their cousins built for them.

So I typed in BarBlanc and Bar Blanc into Google Maps, then Timeout then I browsed Outalot then I went back to Google Mobile to search. Nothing.
Did you mean, some other crap that's obviously not what you wanted?

I started sweating, and the angled west village streets were coming in on me, starting to bow and bend like I had wall-eye, the disease popularized by hotshots in 1991. Just before the carnival music started playing in my head I remembered that there is another service out there that puts people on the job - ChaCha.





When Kevin Mazzatta from the search panel at SES last Monday outlined his service for 'search + brainpower' I immediately dissed (not out loud, audeo could have helped here). While still sitting on the panel I texted in using the free trial - 'when is this panel going to end at SES NYC?' and I got back 'SES runs from March 17 thru 20th, 2008' then Kevin almost as if he was watching my little texting conceit said that people start using ChaCha in what he called the 'cool phase' where they ask silly questions to make themselves feel cool and to show their friends while checking out the service, but then move towards regular usage and then become addicts. I felt like I had been rickrolled on mobile, a low-def but still humiliating experience.

On Thursday I asked 'Where is barblanc in NYC west village?' and I got back:
























Now how awesome is that? My first genuinely spirited ChaCha...and it took about 40 seconds for me to get a response.

To be fair ChaCha required more of me typing than it would on google, and google is taking a look at reducing currently required typing, Google is testing out LCB. Mobile sites for listings often chart browsing paths to reduce the type load with links and drop-downs, but google is giving this method an acronym, which is nice, I like.

What was most valuable to me about using ChaCha was that I stopped sweating. I put out a request and got an answer back. I didn't just put out a request and get crap back because I was somehow asking the wrong way. Thinking of what ChaCha means, I'm curious to see if the discussion of refining of results is more like a dance with each ChaCha than search with engines.

Actually, what was great about using this service was not that it was any easier than regular search. Of course Voice entry or GPS input could have been more technically elegant, however for now it just leads to a multimedia duckroll (I only learned what this was in relation to rickrolling 15 mins ago - thanks dave).

ChaCha gets that you cannot automate a service until you know how to communicate with your customers. You can't bank on serving someone standing near Bank street in 35 degree weather if you are running one simple algorithm to process all requests. ReadWriteWeb says that ChaCha is running a massive artificial intelligence effort to improve results the more people use it, so why not broaden the capabilities of search by starting with the least scalable method - asking people what they want and tracking the human requests and human powered results? Can this have a cool phase? Maybe if you think of them like the Talking Heads....We're tappin' phonelines...you know that that ain't allowed...

Maybe Rod Serling inspired the over-sized talking head suits back in 1983...irregarhdliss mobile search to me is still Life During Wartime .

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