Woo hoo, I love finding weird search engines. And I like fairs too, so this is even better. The Minnesota State Fair, which starts later this week, has launched a “Merch Search” for its Fair vendors, available at http://www.mnstatefair.org/find/merchants/.
You can search the engine by merchant category or by keyword. Because this is a Fair search engine I did a search for fried and got one result — a cheese curds booth. The search results provide the name of the merchant, other items they sell, and a note about where they’re located on the MN Fairgrounds map. (The map is downloadable as a PDF.) Some sites note coupons that they take, or what free giveaways are provided. A couple of the listings I saw had photographs.
I did another search for farm and found about a dozen results, including a winery, a photographer, and the MN Elk Breeders Association. (The worry of where to find a good reliable source of elk jerky is now off my mind.) It looks like more general searches are better, but I still found I had to do a lot of different kinds of searches to get anywhere. (One really good general search term? stick. I have no idea why.)
This search engine is a useful tool, but you know what I’d really love to do if I had permission, a camera, and about two weeks? Use a site like MapWing and go through a Fairgrounds, laying out the whole thing onto an interactive map with photographs. (Probably several interactive maps with photographs.) With the North Carolina State Fair, you’d have to do a big push of initial work but then it would only be incremental updates each year as there’s very little vendor turnover. With the NC State Fair you also have very delineated areas of the Fairgrounds so it would be easy to create maps for each one (map the different buildings, map the new Midway, map the Grandstand area, etc.)
Each mapped location could contribute a highlight menu (of things expected to be served every year) along with any offline information and social media contacts. For the craft vendors and demonstrators you might even want to link to video or news stories about their work. You could leave the tour up on an official Fair Web site during the whole year both as a draw for potential visitors (the NC State Fair is pretty big) and as a contact tool/additional marketing resource for your vendors. Maybe Fred’s Hot Dogs wouldn’t find that so useful but any exhibitor in the Village of Yesteryear would!
I spend a lot of time thinking about how online interactive experiences can help the fortunes of offline companies. I can’t help but imagine a Fairgrounds — a controlled area, with clear boundaries and regular usage, at least partially focused on commerce — as a wonderful test lab for experimenting with these kinds of experiences.