Ask.com’s local search product AskCity launched new tools last night that allow searchers to define the scope of a search by drawing on a map. Ask has always been focused on liberal search queries you might ask a concierge and this new search feature again puts the user in charge while abstracting some complexities of local search.
In my example search above I searched for coffee near The Palace Hotel, a popular web conference spot. A search for the hotel put a marker in the middle of Market Street, but it didn’t matter in the case of my search. I drew a circle with about a one city block radius, a reasonable walking distance for a meeting or general break from the conference action. AskCity plotted a few options on the map and opened a new pane showing search summaries from IAC partner CitySearch.
A typical local search asks the user for a ZIP code or street address as a center point and searches for nearby points of interest. Users can limit their search via drop-down menu selections with choices including things like 1, 3, or 5 miles from the specified center. If you’re on the edge of a ZIP code boundary or would like to limit your search for after-dinner drinks to the two blocks around your restaurant you’re often out of luck. AskCity’s drawing tools let users draw their search boundaries, constructing longitude and latitude ranges while the user applies a brush stroke.
Despite its unique features such as walking directions and search boundary drawing tools AskCity continues to frustrate me with other UI elements that just get in my way. The map would adjust its center and its zoom level after every shape-based search, leading to extra work trying to pan and zoom back to my search area. It wasn’t immediately obvious how to make the search result pane go away — you maximize the map pane to minimize the search results — and the search listings and reviews displayed seemed to be out of date, not listing a Peet’s that opened last year, and a restaurant I first visited about a year ago was listed as “soon to be open.”
I’m a fan of AskCity’s willingness to experiment and rethink approaches to local search based on our actual behavior. I just want my experience with the whole product to be as productive as my interactions with the single mapping pane.