Local Search, With A Visual Twist

Metrobot combines an excellent local search engine with a unique graphical interface that makes it easy to locate businesses in a dozen major U.S. cities.

Metrobot is unlike any other local search service I’ve tried. The interface is simple, allowing you to search by business name, type, or address. But search results look dramatically different than those shown by any other local search service.

Metrobot CEO Geoff Campbell says that “Metrobot combines elements of a map, search engine, and online yellow pages resulting in a richer interface than can be found in any of these applications by themselves.”

Rather than taking the usual approach to local search, pairing yellow page type directory listings with cartographic maps, Metrobot simplifies things by displaying “roads” in a straightened and aligned manner with businesses appearing on either side.

Street names are hyperlinked, allowing you to virtually “stroll” up or down a street, checking out the names of nearby businesses as you go.

For example, a search for 1335 Avenue of the Americas in New York displays a representation of the street, correctly associating the New York Hilton with the address.

Three blocks of Avenue of the Americas are displayed, between west 53rd and 56th streets. Anyone attending the upcoming Search Engine Strategies conference in March will be delighted to see that there’s Starbuck’s Coffee shop less than half a block away.

Each of the streets shown is linked, and clicking the link lets you “turn” on to that street. For example, turning “right” on west 53rd street shows the blocks between Avenue of the Americas and Park Avenue. Scrolling to the top of this map and clicking on the east 53rd street link lets you continue your virtual journey east, showing the blocks between Park Avenue and west 2nd street on 53rd. You can traverse all of Manhattan (or any of the other cities in Metrobot’s index) this way.

In short, it’s an easy and fun way to “explore” a city’s businesses, just by clicking hyperlinked streets. The interface was designed with mobile users in mind, and if you use the service with an internet enabled phone or handheld device, you can set your preferences to display a 160 pixel width map — perfect for those small screens.

Once you’ve found a business of interest, clicking the numeric address next to a business displays its address, phone number and type of business. If the business has a web site, direct links that site are also provided.

Additional program features allow users or business owners to access a calendar of events, a multi-topic forum, or a chat room associated with each business or location depicted on the road network.

As Metrobot attracts a larger user base, Campbell plans to sell contextual ads to businesses. Ads appear in Metrobot street maps, at the top of the list of search results (when searching by business name or type), as well as on the directory listing page for each business.

Ads are currently free to business owners — all you need to is become a registered user of Metrobot and place the ad.

Registering also provides benefits for Metrobot users. For example, there’s a tracking feature that lets friends or co-workers locate you as you move through a particular city.

Currently available cities include New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, San Jose, Seattle, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Tucson, Denver and Las Vegas, with additional cities on the way. Gotham, a virtual version of New York City, is available for game oriented users who wish to run their own virtual businesses and interact with other Gotham inhabitants.

And Campbell plans to expand coverage this year. “I have recently begun collecting data for businesses in the western U.S.,” he says. “I intend to include these states in their entirety. I don’t have an estimated time of completion for this region but am hopeful that it won’t take too long.”

Metrobot is one of the most useful specialized search services I’ve seen in a long while. It also shows how thinking outside of the (search) box can lead to a creative yet incredibly useful solution to the local search problem all of the major search engines are throwing a lot of resources at. Here’s hoping they all take a close look at what Metrobot has to offer.

Search Headlines

NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication’s search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.

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