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Lasoo Makes Geosearching Visual

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NOTE: Lasoo was acquired by Overture in mid-2002. Overture is developing its own version of local search using some of Lasoo's mapping technology. The former Lasoo site at Lasoo.com is not owned by or associated with Overture.

We've had "geosearching" available through Northern Light for over a year, but it's moving to a new level with the recent launch of Lasoo, which lets gives you geovisual results.

Geovisual? It's not Lasoo's term for what it does but rather one I feel best describes the important and useful difference between what the company is providing and the idea of geosearching that I wrote about last year, after Northern Light's implementation.

With geosearching at Northern Light, the idea is that if you search for something like "san francisco hotels," information behind the scenes would work to ensure that you found relevant web sites even if they failed to use the words "san francisco" on their pages.

What's lacking from this is a mapping facility. There are times when you'd like a geographical view of your search results. For instance, you not only want a list of hotels available in San Francisco but you also want them pinpointed on a map, so you can see which ones are near the area where you wish to stay.

Enter Lasoo, which is expressly designed to do this. It will visually display products and services available in set locations.

Unlike a regular search engine, you have to give Lasoo two forms of information: what you are looking for and where you want to find it.

For instance, let's say you wanted a hotel in San Francisco. You'd need to enter "hotel" in Lasoo's search box and "San Francisco" in its "Location Finder." As your reward, you will be shown a map of San Francisco with dots representing hotels in the area. Select a dot, and you can see more information about a particular hotel. Once you are in a particular area, it is easy to "pan" around to a nearby location by clicking on the map. You can also zoom in and out of the map.

The downside is that you will generally get only very basic information, such as the hotel's address and phone number. You do not necessarily get a link to the hotel's web site (assuming they have one). So, in this example, Lasoo is a great way to find a hotel in a location you want, but then you might find yourself turning to another search engine to get more information about the amenities offered.

In addition, since the information Lasoo has about businesses is limited, more complicated keyword searches may fail. For example, a search for "child friendly hotels" in San Francisco failed to find anything. At Google, a search for " "child friendly" hotels in san francisco" brought up plenty of likely prospects. Of course, what Google then lacks is a nice mapping facility to show you all the in geographical relation to each other.

Ideally, we'd see Lasoo or a similar service as a complement to a regular search engine. Imagine searching at Google, then selecting a "map results" link to geovisualize your results, when appropriate. It would provide a new, useful view of listings we've not had available before.

Naturally, Lasoo would like to be a portal partner to make this type of feature possible. It has already established a partnership with Excite Canada, though not to refine that service's regular results. Instead, Lasoo's database is being used as a standalone products and services locator for Excite Canada's broadband customers.

Along with powering portals and others, Lasoo intends to continue operating its site aimed at consumers. It also expects that the quality of searches will improve. As it improves linking businesses to actual web sites, it should eliminate the problem I mentioned of needing to go elsewhere to get additional information about a point on a map. It also means that more specific queries may bring up results.

Toronto-based Lasoo's not alone in wanting to tie geographic information to regular search results. Also based near Toronto is Geosign. The company is working to tag each URL on the web with a real-word geographical location, if one is appropriate.

Geosign's idea is to help search engines improve geographically-related searches not with mapping but instead by helping them better understand which pages are related to a particular area. For example, imagine you are searching for a vegetarian restaurant in London. You might miss a restaurant that is in London simply because they didn't include the word "London" on their web page.

For instance, a restaurant only listing their address as Barnet -- a London borough -- could be missed. Geosign would correct this behind the scenes, because it would know that "Barnet" is a part of London.

Incidentally, Northern Light remains the only major search engine to already offer this type of feature, using technology powered by Vicinity. As for Geosign, it is still building its index, which is currently at about 300,000 records and concentrated on the North East portion of the United States. This is a private demo for potential portal customers, who may want to partner with Geosign to refine their results. Consumers reaching the site won't find a public version, as with Lasoo.

Overall, Lasoo is well worth a look during those times when you need a product or service in particular geographical area. However, be aware that the service doesn't put both a search box and location box on its home page. This means you have to enter a location in the box at the bottom of the home page or click a general location using the map. Then, on the next page, you can enter your search terms into a box in the left-hand side of the screen.

This two-step process is a conscious choice Lasoo has made. The company says it wants users to locate themselves in someway before searching. However, I think it would be better if both a search and location box were present on the home page, eliminating this two step chore.

Behind the scenes, Lasoo has a database of over 25 million records for North American businesses and web sites, with information for Asia and Europe to be added in the near future. To get this information, Lasoo licenses private databases and also crawls the web. This also means you may be listed already within Lasoo. However, if your site hasn't been matched to an existing business listing, you may not appear in response to some searches. Use the " User Added Data" form below, in order to amend your record.

Wireless Location-Based Searching with Lasoo
Wireless Developer Network, April 2001
http://www.wirelessdevnet.com/articles/lasoo1/

An article about the wireless location search that Lasoo offered.

gstart
http://www.gstart.com/

Another effort to provide geographic searching is planned to appear on this site in the near future. At the moment, it is instead designed to help webmasters add geographical information to their web pages. It does this by helping you discover your latitude and longitude, then incorporating that information into meta tags. Unfortunately, no major search engine actually reads these meta tags. Instead, you're still best advised to make use of the tips covered in the members-only version Northern Light article above. Even gstart's spider- based index, when it gets started, will watch for zip codes and phone numbers on pages to help it understand their geographical location.

.geo
http://www.dotgeo.org/

SRI is backing a new top level domain, .geo, that would be tied to a web site's geographical location. It is hoped this would help in applications such as geosearching.

New Rules for Net Searches: Location, Location, Location
New York Times, April 4, 2001
http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/05/technology/05NEXT.html

More about the SRI proposal.


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