Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Local search on Microsoft Local Live

Steve Lombardi from Microsoft emailed me about the local search issues I raised in regard to Google Maps on the iPhone (and other mobile platforms) in my earlier post. In that post I compared the results I got with Google to those I got from MapQuest - I would have tried Microsoft Local Live also, except I had been under the mistaken impression that it didn't work on my Mac ... turns out it doesn't work with Safari (you get a very scaled back site which is pretty useless), but it works fine with FireFox (for 2D stuff - Virtual Earth in 3D, and Photosynth, are actually the things I miss most in Mac land so far!). So I was pleased to discover that I can at least use the 2D stuff still.

Local live search example

Steve had tried the same tests I did on Local Live, and I tried them for myself and it fared well. With luck, this live link will give you more or less the same thing as the screen shot above. I ran several tests in my previous review, all centered on 1792 Wynkoop St, Denver, CO. For full details see the earlier post, but I'll summarize the earlier results here too. These were the test searches and the results I got with Local Live:
  • King Soopers (a local supermarket chain): Google returned 4 non-existent results in the top 10; Microsoft and MapQuest both had no errors but some duplication, in the sense of having multiple addresses close by for the same store. M&M both correctly located the closest store but Google didn't (unless you count manually discarding results with incomplete addresses)
  • Tattered Cover (a well known Denver bookstore with 3 locations): Google returned 4 non-existent results in a list of 8, while M&M both returned only the 3 correct store locations.
  • Office Depot and Home Depot seemed to work fine with everyone, with no obvious errors.
  • A search for grocery yielded 4 out of 10 incorrect results on Google and 10 reasonable looking results on MapQuest (though I didn't verify them all). With Microsoft the top result was incorrect, an incomplete address which just said "Denver, CO", similar to those which caused a lot of the errors with Google. And the second address on the list was interesting - it was Cowboy Lounge, which is a nightclub which used to be Market 41, which appeared on the Google list also, incorrectly categorized as a grocery store (you can understand how the mistake occurred given the original name). Interesting that Microsoft picked up the name change, which Google didn't, but still has the incorrect categorization. However, one good thing with Microsoft is that I was given the option to provide feedback that the result was incorrect, so I did that and asked this it should be removed from the grocery categories (and I provided feedback on the previous incorrect result too). The rest of the list appeared to be legitimate establishments, though the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and Cookies by Design are a broad interpretation of "grocery" :) !! So Microsoft did better than Google but not as well as MapQuest on this one. I will be interested to see if and when my feedback on the incorrect categorization gets through the system, I will check it out every so often to find out!
So overall, both Microsoft and MapQuest appear to have much better quality in their points of interest data than Google does (admittedly based on a fairly small sample). As I said previously, as consumers start to use location based services more, data quality will be a really critical factor in end user satisfaction. Your system might have the coolest user interface in the world, but by the second or third time it has taken you to a non-existent location, I can pretty much guarantee that you will switch to something less sexy but with more reliable data. This is a scenario where false positives (returning a location of interest which does not really exist) are in general much worse than false negatives (not returning a real location of interest). If I'm desperate for a beer and you direct me to a bar which is two miles away but ignore one which is one mile away, at least I get my beer pretty promptly (though I would have been happier if I could have walked). But if you take me to several nonexistent locations first and I hunt around at each one for a while to try to find the bar which is supposed to be there, I will be thirsty and grumpy and resolving to find a new LBS to help me next time :).

A couple of other quick observations on the Microsoft Local Live implementation. One is that it lets you place a pin at your original location of interest, and also display pins in different colors showing multiple different query results at the same time - this feature is nicely done and not available in Google either online or mobile. The results include some ads, but these are clearly separate from the result listing. The results come back sorted in order of "relevance", which I think is probably in most cases a euphemism for "more or less by distance, but with scope to move sponsored results further up the list" - which is what Google appears to be doing with its mobile maps as I discussed previously. But with one click I can change this to sort by distance, and on both these lists it shows the distance of each result from my starting point. As a user I am quite happy with this approach - it gives the service provider (Microsoft) the chance to monetize their service with ads and preferred placement, which ultimately is necessary otherwise service providers won't be able to continue to provide their service, but it doesn't hamper my ability to easily get the specific information I want (as Google Maps Mobile does).

Steve tells me that the same local search capabilities are available in Microsoft Live Search for mobile ... but unfortunately there's not much chance of me testing that any time soon, as I am already suffering enough abuse over having both an iPhone and a BlackBerry 8800, so I don't think I can justify adding a Windows-based smartphone to the collection :) !!


James Fee said...

I've had better luck with Virtual Earth/Live Local than I have with Google Local. I'm not sure why that is given that most others I talk to hate VE with a passion.

The ability to place those pins is one of the killer features of VE and the ability to share them.

Peter Batty said...

I agree, there's a lot of anti-Microsoft sentiment in the blogosphere, but I think they're doing a lot of cool stuff, as I've written about before (as are Google too of course, but in this local search area they need a bit of work).