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Gigablast Founder Matt Wells is Back With FlurbiT, an Event Search Engine

Longtime search engine wonks will remember Gigablast from back in the day as one of the lesser-known search engines with a huge, huge page index and a scrappy founder named Matt Wells. If you weren’t looking at search engines too often then, here’s some backstory.

Gigablast is still around, but Matt is focusing on a new project now with the recent launch of a site called FlurbiT, available at http://flurbit.com/. FlurbiT bills itself as “the largest event search engine in the U.S.”, which it probably is, considering that FlurbiT mines the open, unstructured Web for event information.

From the front page you can go and browse for available events, or you can do a search for specific types of events within a given radius of a place. I decided to look for daily events within 30 miles of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Once you run a search you like, you can save it as an RSS feed.

I did not get a result count, but the results were broken out by date. Because I searched for things that were happening on a daily basis, there were a lot of repeats. Samples of mined events included a day camp, several zoo presentations, and an exercise program.

Almost immediately the issue of the mined data became apparent. For example, a daily exercise event does occur — but is open only to members of Absentee Shawnee Tribe, tribal employees, and Native Americans in surrounding counties. A daily appearance by Ben “Cooter” Jones actually took place in 2007. It would be good if there was an easy way to report when events have expired, are restricted in certain ways, or are otherwise different from their single-line presentation.

I tried another search, this time for events occuring weekly within 30 miles of Decatur, Illinois. This group of results was much better with events including Toastmasters, Church events, 8-ball tournaments, and martial arts classes. There were still erroneous/odd listings, however.

Each listing has a page showing the relevant, mined data with a map, and a highlighted version of the original event page so you can easily see the context for the event.

Should you find a set of event search results you really like, you can get a widget to add them to your own Web site. And you don’t have to rely on FlurbiT’s mining to get your event right; you can submit an event instead.

Trying to datamine the unstructured Web is a difficult, thankless job, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that there are erroneous results on FlurbiT. Having a simple mechanism to report incorrect listings would help a lot, and remove the chaff from what is already a large, potentially useful database of events.

Finding Live Events on the Web with Live Matrix

CNET had an interesting post a few weeks ago on a service called Live Matrix, which is an attempt to catalog all the live events on the Web. Live Matrix recently left private beta and is available at http://livematrix.com/.

The front page shows you some upcoming events and highlights of the day. You can also search by keyword, or browse by type of events (though the types are pretty skimpy — Shopping, News, Sports, Entertainment, and More.) I did a search for webinar. I got 63 upcoming events (through mid-October.) and 181 recent events. (As a point of comparison, WebinarListings has about two dozen events for Tuesday, September 28th alone.) Each listing has a series of icons that gives essential information about the event, including whether or not it is free, what time it takes place, and some relevant tags. You also have the opportunity to share the event or comment on it (you have to be registered to comment; you can also register through Facebook.) Clicking on the title of the event takes you to a detail page where you can get a more extensive description of the event, get an embeddable widget with details of the event, and go to the event itself (if there is no page yet available, you’ll have the option to set up a reminder for the event.)

I really like the concept of something like this; there are more and more live events online every day, and I’m not aware of a good way to keep up with all of them. But I’d want more functionality. The event types are extremely limited, especially if you’re going to end up cataloging tens of thousands of events. I found the “Shopping” category to be 100% useless to me and I wanted to hide it. The number of events seemed lacking but the site did recently come out of private beta and maybe it just needs a chance to fill out. The site allows you to browse channels — places where there are regular live events — but to me it seemed to make the “one-off” events not associated with channels more difficult to find.

This site is an excellent and moreover necessary idea. If it were mine I’d tweak it some.

Google Pulls Answers, Events Out of Search Morass

Last Friday, Google announced a couple new features that should make it easy to extract information from the general hodgepodge of search results. One of them is for factual data and one of them is for events.

The first feature is called “Answer Highlighting” and is invoked when you search for factual information. Google has an example in its blog post: ask Google How tall is the Empire State building? and you’ll get the answer highlighted in your search result snippets. Sadly I didn’t have as much luck with this search. Washington Monument height got me relevant results, but the fact of its height was not highlighted. I didn’t have much luck with Statue of Liberty height either.

I tried a search for Abraham Lincoln died and got this at the top of my search results:

I don’t know if this is supposed to be the highlighted search results or not. I do know I didn’t have any luck finding highlighted answers in my search result snippets, using variations of Google’s examples. (And I also wasn’t sure why there one of the examples was in the form of a question and the others had more simple syntax.) Probably for simple fact questions I will continue to use Wolfram|Alpha. Not only can I get the heights of buildings there easily, but I can enter a query like “Empire State Building height minus Washington Monument height” and get an answer!

The second feature is for pulling events out of search results. This is one of Google’s “Rich Snippets.” When you search for a site that supports this snippet, you’ll get an event listing right in your search result, like the example for Irving Plaza:

Note that as a “rich snippet,” this feature requires Web wranglers to insert special markup in their Web pages. Since Google just announced this feature you will not find event listings in your search results for a while. If you yourself are a Web wrangler and have events on your site, you can get the documentation on the new search snippet here.

I didn’t have much luck with the answer highlighting, but I like this new events rich snippet. It’ll be even better if that event data also ends up on the Google Maps listings!

Local.com Starts Up Events Site

Local.com, which as you might imagine covers geographically local business search, has launched a new events site at http://events.local.com/.

When you visit the site it takes a guess at where you are (you can correct it if it’s wrong) and from the front page gives you a list of what’s happening in your area, including music, festivals, conferences, sports, family-friendly events, etc. Click on a category and you’ll be taken to an event listing.

Now here’s the weird part: the event listings default to listing by event popularity. HUH? In other words, event listings are not in date order. If you want to go to Local.com Events and just get an idea of what kind of live music is playing this weekend, you’ll have to resort the event order before you do anything else — that’s if you even notice that the events are not in order of date. This strikes me as a bit silly; it seems to me like date-sensitive information should be sorted by date first. If you want to offer other sorting options fine, but if I go to an event listing and the first event is tomorrow and the next event listed is in March, my first conclusion is going to be, “Wow, this site doesn’t have much available.” It’s NOT going to be “Gee, I guess I should double-check my sorting options!”

(If you do sort by date, you’ll occasionally get oddness. I looked at sporting events in New York City and found several events at the same address taking place at midnight on the same day. Placeholders for other upcoming events?)

Anyway, The event listings have detail name, link, and time, but unfortunately there’s an address instead of venue name for the ones I looked at. There might be a game at so-and-so stadium, but Local.com events only lists the address for so-and-so stadium, which people might not know.

But you can get around that with the search feature. You can search for events, performers, and venues. So for example you might look at sports in New York City and find several events at 4 Penn Plaza, New York, New York 10001. You have no idea where that is. But you do a venue search for Madison Square Garden and you get that address and all the events taking place at that event. So if you want to go out somewhere and you do have a venue in mind, search by that first.

Or you can do a more general search by keyword for events. I did a New York search for circus and found 142 results — everything from Ringling to Cirque du Soleil. Of course, the first event listed was for January 18th, while the second listed was for February 13th….

Goby Wants to Tell You Where To Go

Don’t know what to do with your free time? There’s a search engine for that. Goby, available at http://www.goby.com/, aims to link you with leisure activities. It’s in beta, and if its logo and home page background are any indication, it’s also underwater…

Instead of a single query box, you have to tell Goby at least two of three things: what you want to do, where you want to do it, and when you want to do it. The “what” can be any one of over three hundred categories ranging from food and drink to activities to events. (Just start typing something and Goby will make suggestions.) The “where” looks to be any place in the US, but make sure you spell the place name right — Goby didn’t give me any suggestions until I’d typed almost a full place name. And the “When” is just what it sounds like — you can specify today, tomorrow, next month, etc. You can also enter a custom date or just say “anytime”.

I told Goby I wanted to go hiking in Virginia anytime. It gave me 250 results, starting with the First Landing State Park. The results show the name of the place, an image, and where the listing came from (in this case backpacker.com.) There are also additional buttons to show more info, get photos, or search for what’s nearby. In each of these cases a small pink box opens under the search result and gives you the extra data there on the results page.

In the case of the images, Goby goes on the Internet to find those, so I was a little suspicious about what it would find. “First Landing State Park” is not a name with unusual words in it, so I was afraid my results would be generic. I’m not sure they were all correct, as I’ve never been to FLSP, but there was nothing offensive or way off.

If you just want the site result, click on the name of the place in the search result; Goby links to it in a new window.

I searched Goby again, this time asking for music in Boston in January. Goby again came up with 250 results, but the results were more of a mixed bag; apparently asking for music is too generic. I got everything from theater events to a museum exhibit to something called the “Harry Potter: The Exhibition.” There were musical events available, but they were scattered through the listings.

Goby is a good idea, though you might have to tweak your searches a little to get what you want. I see a lot of possibilities as more APIs offer geolocation tools and services. Pictures of the First Landing State Park are great, but how about tweets from folks who have been recently or who are nearby?

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