Blog Archives

Google Location: When You Want to Be Nowhere in Particular

Recently Google announced that it was making the location setting more prominent on its Web page. If you look on the left side of a search results page, you’ll see that Google is showing you where you are and giving you the option to change that setting. Google, as you probably remember, is now customizing its search results based on your geographic location.

Here’s the thing, though: you can’t say that you’re nowhere.

In other words, you can’t say that you want just the generic United States results (when you’re in the US). You have to specify that you’re somewhere in particular. My attempts to say I was on the Moon, at Squaresville, or in a pineapple under the sea were to no avail.

Which was annoying to me since many Google searches that I do have nothing to do with location. And being burdened with a location, I wonder what I’m missing, or how badly my search results are being skewed in a way I don’t want.

I did find a way to get around this, however. Metasearch engine Zuula, about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago, offers a Google search. A Zuula spokesman tells me that the results from its Google search are geared to come from “the United States.” He went on to say, “So, regardless where a user is — in the U.S. or elsewhere — the results they see are generic results relevant for all the U.S.”

He further noted: “The answer to your question would be somewhat if we were talking about the other major web search providers, Yahoo and Bing. There, the results are customized according to the country where the user is located. A Zuula user in France, for example, will see Yahoo and Bing results very close to what they would see at the Yahoo and Bing French websites. However, this would not be the case for the Google web search tab at Zuula, which still would return generic ‘U.S.’ results.”

I apologize to my international readers for the US-centricity of this article, but US readers, there is an option for searching Google which doesn’t involve slanting your search to a specific area.

Update: Chris schools me — see the comment below. The magic location to specify no location is “US.” I knew you guys were brilliant. Thanks Chris!

Yahoo Has Geographically-Sensitive Search Suggestions

Yahoo announced last week that its search suggestions will now be sensitive to where you are. Read the blog post for examples of why searching for santa in one place will get you different results from searching santa in another place.

I dunno. I tried it and it didn’t do that much for me. I started typing airport and I got suggestions for JFK airport and the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Neither one of those is anywhere near me. I started typing North for North Carolina, and got the suggestion of Northwest Airlines. Yay.

After a few more searches I admit I could not see where the geographically-sensitive part was kicking in. But on the other hand I’m not deeply disappointed; if I’m looking for something local I either a) know enough about it to be able to search very specifically or b) include a location in the query itself.

As you’ll see if you read Yahoo’s announcement there’s apparently no way to turn this off, but frankly I’m not sure you’ll even notice it. But a note in the comments if you’re having more meaningful experience with this new feature.

Yahoo Announces PlaceFinder

So nice to get some good news out of Yahoo for once. The continued disintegration of its directory is making me mighty depressed. Anyway, Yahoo announced yesterday the public release of Yahoo! PlaceFinder, a REST Web service providing geocoding of named places.

It supports building-level address recognition in 75 countries, and points of interest for the same 75 countries and the rest of the world. PlaceFinder lives at You’ll need an application ID and you’ll be limited to 50,000 requests per day. (You can contact Yahoo if you think you’re gonna beat that.)

Being a REST service, everything goes into the URL fairly simply. You can request something as specific as an exact address or alterately a point of interest (POI) name — like an airport location code. Responses are available in XML, JSON, or serialized PHP. Possible response information includes latitude and longitude, postal code, neighborhood name, country code, time zone, and area code. You can get complete documentation here.

Have you tried PlaceFinder? What did you think? Leave a note in the comments.

Where Are You? Tag Your Location in Twitter

Twitter announced yesterday the launch of Twitter Places. Now you can tag Twitter with your location as well as view tweets from a particular location. This new feature is also integrated with FourSquare and Gowalla. There will also be API integration for the new feature.

There’s a Twitter account devoted to Twitter Places called Geo; unfortunately it doesn’t have any tweets yet. There’s also a help page, but that’s more about using the new location feature in outgoing tweets than finding them in search engines.

I finally found a tweet using location from Twitter itself; the Twitter Places announcement came from “Alcatraz, San Francisco”. When you click on the location in the tweet you get a small popup window with a map, and the option to see other tweets from the same location.

As you might expect, there are not many tweets going on from Alcatraz, and the search result page read “Older tweets are temporarily unavailable.”

I think maybe I’m taking a look at this too soon… there’s enough people using it. I like the idea, and the ability to quickly gather a bunch of tweets in one place when something is happening would be useful (can you imagine having the ability to do that during the Olympics? During the 2008 elections?) It just remains to see how many people will enable this on their Twitter accounts.

Take Advantage of Twitter Location: Sency & The City

I got a queue full of buzzy goodness to share with y’all next week, but here’s a resource that can’t wait. You might have heard about real time search engine Sency. If you haven’t, stay tuned; I’ll have a writeup about it later on. Today I want to focus on one of its new features: Sency for Cities. the new Cities feature is available at

Sency for Cities shows you what’s trending on Twitter in 13 US cities (Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC) and also gives you keyword search for the geographical area at the same time. I wandered over to the Chicago page and saw that the trending terms included Dez Bryant and nfldraft.

Which is great but I’m more interested in my Cubbies, so I did a search for cubs.

Here’s the real-time results, ordered by time posted. (There is a spam filter being implemented as well; my searches showed a few irrelevant/spammy tweets, but not many.) Tweet information includes how long ago it was generated and who tweeted it (Twitter profiles and recent tweets are available via a Sency-generated page). You can “react” to the tweet, share it on other social media (including Facebook and of course Twitter) or e-mail it. Also nice: the page URL for this search is static (in this case so it’s easily shared, included in a post like this one, etc.

I did run across a couple of issues. When I did the city-specific searching, I found a few instances where it looked like there SHOULD be links in the tweets but there weren’t. That was odd. I also noticed that when I tried to go past the first page of results for cubs in Chicago, Sency switched my location-based result to a non-location based list of tweets (and hot links.) And, of course, there need to be more cities available!

I like the trend list and I like the clean layout of the results as well as the static URLs. There are a couple of glitches but they look like just that — glitches — instead of design decisions. Forge ahead, Sency!

Google Localizes Google Suggest, “Improves” Spelling Suggestions

Google announced last week a couple of improvements in its regular search engine. I wasn’t thrilled with either of these improvements, though I can see how they will make casual searching easier.

Google Suggest has now been tailored to specific areas in the United States in addition to specific countries. So if you’re in North Carolina and you search for Hurricanes, you might get suggested pointers to the professional hockey team before you get pointers to things like hurricane preparation and information about hurricane season. I wish there was some way to turn this off; often my searches don’t have much to do with geographical area. I did find that just moving my search to changed the suggestions, but in some cases the suggestions were for things in the UK…

Google has also implemented more spelling suggestions for names. You’ve probably seen that if you do a search and misspell a word, Google will suggest the correct spelling and that’s okay 99% of the time. But when I’m searching for a name, it can be a bit annoying, because Google not only suggests the correct spelling but goes ahead and chucks what it thinks is the correct spelling into the search results.

Say I’m searching for Carolynn. There are plenty of people named Carolynn. However, there are more people named Carolyn and Google will a) suggest that as the correct spelling and b) put Carolyns in my search results. With all those Carolyns I might miss Carolynn Carey, the romance writer, Carolynn Bunch, the equine photography professional, and the artist Carolynn Desch. If you want to remove Google’s well-meaning results from your search, just put a + in front of the name you’re trying to find: +carolynn. It’ll change your results considerably (though strangely the result count doesn’t change much.)

(This also works for non-names too: try searching for chocolatte and then +chocolatte.)

And as long as we’re talking about spelling improvements, lemme mention that Google has also expanded its auto-correction in spelling to 31 languages across 180 domains with “more to come,” it is promised.

Twitter Going to Start Getting “Real” Location Data

Twitter announced in its blog last week that it is developing a new API that will let developers add latitude and longitude to any Tweet. Twitter as it stands has a “Location” field for Twitters, but it’s not linked to actual geolocation data and anybody can type anything there.

This API is being rolled-out a little differently; Twitter is going to release it to platform developers first, then to the mobile Web site and the Twitter Web site. So you’re going to see availability at different places at different times.

If you have any concerns about privacy this announcement will probably make all your alarm bells go off. But Twitter does note that people will have to opt-in to the feature, and that “exact” location data won’t be stored for an extended period of time (which begs the question: what is non-exact location data? You’ll store the state I was in at the time of the tweet? The region? The area code?) It sounds like the location feature is going to be just on/off, which is too bad. If there were a secure way to do it, it might be interesting to offer people the ability to add their location to an aggregate of information. John Doe might not want to put his location on every tweet, but he might be willing to allow his general location to be aggregated for research purposes.

Why do general aggregation of location information in addition to location for individuals? A couple of reasons. First of all, I think more people would be willing to opt in to aggregation as opposed to individual data (again, if that information can be gathered securely.) Second, it would make for some fascinating studies. Take the 2008 elections. Wouldn’t it have been great to see what parts of the country were “lighting up” with extra-high Twitter activity during the elections? Then later seeing if those areas of activity correlated with things like close elections, high voter turnout, public gatherings, etc.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this new API is implemented. Constant, real-time feedback on the businesses and institutions around you will be a cornerstone of furthering augmented reality, and Twitter is in an excellent position to provide that data.

(By the way, if you don’t have “augmented reality” as a monitored query in your favorite news search engine, you’re missing some great stuff.)


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