November 30, 2005

Using DNS to attach Websites to Local Search

A long time ago, when I was still at Citysearch, I had suggested that we somehow attain access to DNS records (either as a registrar or by partnering with someone who could provide us the data). This was long before Google had become a registrar.

Think about it…how would you attach a web site to a location? How would you know where this location is? Some sites will add address/geographic point meta data in the headers of their site (like the ones GeoURL uses) but those sites are few and far between. Some sites put the addresses somewhere on their site (front page, deep linked, or even may represent a chain of multiple locations). The challenge here would be to figure out how to find and parse this data since everyone puts it in different locations, addresses have multiple different formats and abbreviations, not to mention differences in international addresses, etc. Although it can be done, it wouldn’t be as accurate at looking up the DNS record that provides you with contacts (administrative, technical, billing, etc) with their phone numbers and addresses. This DNS data is structured data…you know the street field contains a street, the city field contains a city, and the phone number field contains a phone number.

So, if you’re asking why google chose to become a registrar a long time ago, it had nothing to do with being a consumer registration service. It had more to do with this:

Search on Google Local for Thomas Realty in Burbank, CA. Notice that the first item listed is Thomas Realty and the third is Thomas Realty Co.

Thomas Realty’s website is www.thomasrealtyco.com and is registered to “Thomas Realty Co” in Burbank at the corresponding address on the 3rd listing and with a corresponding phone number as well.

If you did a DNS lookup, you’d see this:

Registrant:
Thomas Realty Co.
245 E. Olive Ave
Burbank, CA 91502
US

Domain Name: THOMASREALTYCO.COM

Administrative Contact:
Thomas Realty Co. Klick34@hotmail.com
245 E. Olive Ave
Burbank, CA 91502
US
818-845-7858 fax: 123 123 1234

Technical Contact:
Network Solutions, LLC. customerservice@networksolutions.com
13200 Woodland Park Drive
Herndon, VA 20171-3025
US
1-888-642-9675 fax: 571-434-4620

Record expires on 16-Nov-2006.
Record created on 16-Nov-2001.
Database last updated on 30-Nov-2005 20:24:16 EST.

Domain servers in listed order:

NS26A.SBC-WEBHOSTING.COM 216.173.237.28
NS26B.SBC-WEBHOSTING.COM 216.173.237.47

So how did they identify this domain as belonging to the third record and why didn’t it match up to the first two?

Well, although all 3 have the same address, the DNS entry uses the exact business name as the 3rd listing (the “Co” on the end). How do I know they used the DNS entry and didn’t crawl the site to figure it out? Go to their URL: it contains but a title tag of “Thomas Realty Company,” keyword meta tags for just “Real Estate” and description meta tags for “Thomas Realty Company.” A big image says the name of the company in the middle along with an alt tag telling us, again, the name of the company. Nowhere is their any reference to any sort of address or phone number.

It’s quote possible the URL could have been culled elsewhere and attached to their local records (i.e. data providers which have either added them in by researching/finding them, some data providers pull out URLs found in phone books, some base data providers have them as well and confirm them through phone calls to the businesses).

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November 29, 2005

Playing with Froogle Local Results

If you go to the Froogle homepage, you see example search terms under the search box:

E.g. “digital camera” or “car near San Francisco”

Note the “San Francisco” location modifier. I typed in that search and got a number of results. I noticed the search had defaulted to “Local Shopping” and separated by search box entry into two entries in two separate boxes: the keyword and the geography. I also noticed that they had a link to Online Shopping which represented their “non-local” results.

As with Google Local, it appears as if they had a few select providers give them listings (and is probably why the rumors were that they were asking for the listings). For cars, I see eDirection.com listings, with attribution. The icons open up information and even show the pictures from the data provider. Clicking on the listing takes you to the data provider’s site.

When I tried searching for router netted results for Circuit City and CompUSA, among others…companies who I know use Cross Media Services (check out their “interactive weekly ads”). Most people these days know Cross Media through a flanker brand known as Shop Local which has deals with many newspapers including the LA Times. (You might have also heard of Sales Hound which is another of their flanker brands).

Anyway, ShopLocal is providing the company name in bold red but they still get the traffic instead of that attribution since the links click through to them. They probably have less to worry about since they are one of only a few sites that collect product and location information nationally at a local level and own the direct relationships with the data providers (i.e. CompUSA) and the distribution channels (i.e. LA Times). I don’t know of many sites that do this at their scale. StepUp attempts to do this and lists the major stores in their results but I don’t think they have as many large distribution (not to mention I liked ShopLocal’s results and interface better).

The difference between ShopLocal and StepUp? Shoplocal already charges these data providers/advertisers for powering their online weekly ads (copies of their offline ads with a nice javascript and/or flash interface). StepUp takes more of a Froogle approach and builds online tools to feed your data in (but, unlike Froogle, it is with a small fee). StepUp also claims to provide results based on inventory…not just ads like ShopLocal. I have not tried it/tested it out but if it in fact does this, StepUp could limit your results to items that are currently in stock (it would suck to make a trip down to the local retailer only to find out they were out of the product you wanted). This should be the next logical step for Froogle’s Local feature.

However, this brings up another issue. The first item in the Google results for Shop Local, however, took me to an item that had expired. :-( Not a good user experience. Oh well…it just launched and I’m sure it will get better (as will StepUp). This indicates a need for more frequent data pulls from ShopLocal into Google’s index. If you add the need for inventory awareness, this would only exacerbate the problem. What else is next? How about integration of Google Base?

…and don’t forget…all this focus on shopping is not by chance…we are in the shopping season!

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November 28, 2005

What’s the plan with Google Base?

I was recently asked what I thought the purpose of Google Base was. Here were my thoughts:

Google had approached local search and iYPs such as Citysearch and Superpages for feeds/APIs to their listings…and they provided it. They had asked the same from news providers for Google News and many of them provided it as well. Not a long time ago, there were rumors that Google was approaching sites with job listings, classifieds, etc and asking them for feeds/APIs as well…but the rumor was that they turned them down.

Why/How is this possible? Well, location listings (as in local search sites) are mostly static…their information may change but the listing for the pizza joint down the street will still be there as long as that business is solvent and has not moved. Although those cases do happen, they are few and far between. Job listings and classifieds are temporal in nature. They are for a current time and place. How do you explain the fact that the news content is also temporal in nature yet the news providers want the content listed on Google? Well, the news is new every day. Old news gets archived and is still looked up for historical purposes. Job listings, for example, expire…once the job has been filled, you don’t want to display it (especially if you’re charging for it to be displayed).

What does the temporal nature of data have to do with wanting the listings appear in Google or not? Well, the local search sites and the news sites want to capture that traffic for people searching on Google using SEO methods. People go to Google and search for Spago and those sites want their URL to show up as close to the top as possible. However, due to the temporal nature of classifieds and job listings, people are better off searching directly at the source such as Monster, Dice, EBay, or Craigslist. Otherwise, the data Google will display may be out of date (it takes time for them to crawl every page of a site (they don’t often pick up every page of a site especially one with a large amount of pages…and when/if they get to that point, everything they had crawled earlier on is out of date!).

The job/classifieds/auctions listings sites do not rely on SEO traffic to these deep links (where the actual listings exist). They mostly rely on these search engine referrals to take them to category or home pages, mostly (and, in some cases, search results pages). The referrals to the deep links may not be relevant a week from now due to their temporal nature.

So, basically, if these sites don’t care to have google refer them traffic to the individual listings (keep in mind their business models…some are ad driven, some are transaction driven, etc), Google must create a strong destination site where end-users wanting maximum exposure would feel compelled to submit their data (and the sheer amount of searches/users on Google may be compelling enough).

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November 14, 2005

Rent books from Google

Check out this article I came across:

Google shares were up as much as 1% at $393.77 after The Wall Street Journal reported the company is discussing a plan to allow consumers to rent and view online copies of books for a week. Under the plan, Google’s proposed fee would be 10% of the book’s list price, and books wouldn’t be downloadable or printable.

Interesting business model…kind of an itunes store meets <num>-use DVDs (there are lots out there and many have been discussed by large players like Disney and Sony.

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Google Analytics provides free site stats

Remember when Google acquired Urchin?

Well, it looks like they will be using some of that software to power Google Analytics, offering free site stats for everyone by inserting a javascript onto the site’s pages.

Google Analytics tells you everything you want to know about how your visitors found you and how they interact with your site. You’ll be able to focus your marketing resources on campaigns and initiatives that deliver ROI, and improve your site to convert more visitors.

Hosted services provided by such companies as Omniture, Fireclick, and Webtrends provide this service for a lot of money so providing this service to the smaller sites is great for those companies who otherwise may not be able to afford them. Are these web analytics companies worried? Well, you get 5 million pageviews per month included…but ti jumps up to unlimited pageviews if you have an Adsense account in good standing, according to the TOS. Larger companies will most likely continue working with these other providers since they often want all sorts of customizations (not to mention the fact that they are probably bound to multi-year contracts). However, the biggest issue high traffic sites face is the service level/response times from these stats providers (you don’t want a javascript include hanging your page during high traffic times). Although Google has one of the larger data farms, I don’t know how many servers would be dedicated to the urchin software and the TOS also provides no guarantees for the service level.

I wonder how they plan to use the data or if it will affect your SEO placement (more traffic and more pageviews per user may indicate a better, relevant site):

Google and its wholly owned subsidiaries may retain and use, subject to the terms of its Privacy Policy (located at http://www.google.com/privacy.html , or such other URL as Google may provide from time to time), information collected in Your use of the Service.

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November 10, 2005

Developing with Maps and Geocoding

Many have been interested in my free geocoder but, with the launch of their new API, it looks like Yahoo is providing geocoding APIs, APIs to stitch together maps for offline/mobile use (remember when Google prevented someone from doing that?), etc:

Geocoding API - Pass in location data by address and receive geocoded (encoded with latitude-longitude) responses.

Map Image API - Stitch map images together to build your own maps for usage in custom applications, including mobile and offline use.

Traffic APIs - Build applications that take dynamic traffic report data to help you plan optimal routes and keep on top of your commute using either our REST API or Dynamic RSS Feed.

Local Search APIs - Query against the Yahoo! Local service, which now returns longitude-latitude with every search result for easy plotting on a map. Also new is the inclusion of ratings from Yahoo! users for each establishment to give added context.

Hopefully, the Yahoo Geocoding tool is better than mine. :-)

Also, if you haven’t done so already, check out the Yahoo Maps beta which demonstrates their maps API used with flash, etc.

If you are a maps/local site developer, check out Justin’s description on modifying maps by creating a transparent overlay (which can be applied to just about any map API).

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Google Automat patent

Is Google planning to capitalize off of Google Base?

seems like they’re building an interface which makes it very easy for people to sell their products as opposed to other services in which you build feeds (not for the unsophisticated/small operations).

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November 3, 2005

Yahoo finally gets good Maps API

I saw this email forwarded by Ask this morning:

From: Simon Willison
Date: November 3, 2005 2:35:11 PST

Yahoo! have released a new map application ( http://maps.yahoo.com/beta/ ) and a whole set of new APIs that I imagine would be of interest to people on this list:

http://developer.yahoo.net/maps/index.html

Highlights include:

Flash APIs for embedding Flash maps in your own pages (or Flash applications)
http://developer.yahoo.net/maps/flash/index.html

An AJAX JavaScript API
http://developer.yahoo.net/maps/ajax/index.html

A REST Geocoding API for addresses in North America
http://developer.yahoo.net/maps/rest/V1/geocode.html

A Map Image API for direct(ish) access to the underlying tile server
http://developer.yahoo.net/maps/rest/V1/mapImage.html

Disclaimer: I work for Yahoo!, but I’m not on the team that put this together.

Cheers,

Simon Willison

I went to check it out and found this:

  • Yahoo! Maps Flash APIs

    Embed maps in your web site or application using the free Macromedia Flash player for a rich user experience.

    AS-Flash API - Create a Flash application that displays Yahoo! Maps using ActionScript®.

    JS-Flash API - Create great applications quickly with our scriptable Flash maps and JavaScript™. No Flash programming is required!

    Flex™ API - Flexdevelopers can use the Flex API with Macromedia’s Presentation Server Technology to create powerful applications.

  • Yahoo! Maps AJAX API

    Use the power of DHTML and JavaScript to host your own maps. We provide the JavaScript functions to make map-making a breeze.

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November 1, 2005

Free .be domains

Register a Free Belgium Domain! (even if you are not a citizen)

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