Charles Arthur: The Geek

Google: it's right up your street
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The strange thing about the internet and especially the web, from their inception, has been how excellent they are at bringing together information and people in geographically separate places - and yet how rubbish they have been at uniting us with information that's local to us.

The strange thing about the internet and especially the web, from their inception, has been how excellent they are at bringing together information and people in geographically separate places - and yet how rubbish they have been at uniting us with information that's local to us.

On Yahoo!'s front page, you'll get all sorts of news about celebrities and people you'll likely never meet. Is the Michael Jackson trial really going to affect your daily round? Much harder to find are the opening times of your post office, or where the nearest non-charging ATM is, or what the phone numbers of local restaurants are.

That's not through any particular fault of the internet: it's more down to the lack of an easy way to include geographical information in web pages, apart from postcodes.

Some sites tried to rectify this: one of the first was upmystreet.com, and I still think it does the job nicely. (It's now part of the uswitch.com organisation, which will look around to find you cheaper services in your area.)

Other interesting local systems are checkmyfile. com, which will tell you about the creditworthiness and so on of your local area -or about somewhere you're looking to move to - and mouseprice.com, which tells you the price actually paid for properties in an area.

Those were available, if you knew where to look. But the big search engines weren't into doing that. They wanted to give you the entire world of information, which magnified the problem because everything from anywhere was grist to the mill.

But now the search engines, in particular Google, are trying to bring you closer to information that's local and valuable. Google last week launched two locally-focused UK services: its "local" and "maps" offerings. There's also its Froogle shopping service, and a capability from mobile phones.

The "local" service is the result of a tie-up with Yell.com. It's frighteningly good. In my rural location, I typed in "curry" and the first part of my postcode, and got dozens of curry houses. Put in your full postcode and you'll get a better-ordered listing with precise distances.

You also get a map that shows, on a large-ish scale, where each of those results is. It's quick and impressive.The maps are also impressive: just type in the name of a town or village, or a postcode, and you get an impressive, zoomable map. The mobile service, too, is interesting, part of the wider aim to offer more functionality. The interesting thing is the "Google SMS" function, which lets you send a query as a text message to a (Google-reserved) number and get the results back.

Google is a steamroller now. Others copy its features; it copies theirs. Google's tend to be the ones that get used. Don't forget: its first web search was only carried out in September 1998. It has become both a verb and a byword for searching, and has a stock price that makes it worth more than $25bn. So much for "first-mover" advantage, which suggested that the first company to get into a business space would dominate it. For Amazon, that's been true, but in almost every other space, not.

The next vision? It's obvious: having narrowed from the global to the local, the search engines now all want to focus on the personal, so they will know that when you type "engine" you're more likely to be thinking of the variety that do search than automotive power. It's going to be an interesting time.

Note: on Friday, Apple releases Tiger, its latest version of OS X. We'll have an exclusive review in these pages next week.

www.charlesarthur.com/blog

Comments