Geo-tagging versus radiating search

I was asked the other day why we don’t do radiating search, and its a good question the answer to which is not immediately obvious.  I figured it may be useful to share the reasons why?

When we first designed Brownbook.net we set out to challenge all the established rules of how local business directories ‘should’ work (coming from a big directory background as we do this was not always easy, but an exercise we def wanted to do).

With respect to radiating searches the more we questioned it and experimented with alternatives the more we saw that there was a better way, and we decided to junk the concept in favor of a more contemporary ‘tags-based’ method.

Now it’s not immediately obvious to someone brought up in traditional directory industry, so let me try to explain some of the logic here (it takes longer to explain it that to see the behavior it in action):

#The assumption that ‘closest’ is always what a user wants:
With traditional local directories there was very little value added info that allowed a user to select which suppliers that might use, thus ‘closest’ was pretty much all they had.  With richer information with listings users have more criteria by which they can decide which businesses to use.

#User self-selection:
Human behavior says that when looking for a business to use in a certain area a user will type in that area (by some definition, eg zip code, town, city, region, etc, etc).  If they don’t find results they want they tend to try a different area definition – either broader, narrower, or just different.  The user of ‘related tags’ facilitates this in a tags-based search, where the related tags offered are determined by the tagging that businesses and users have assigned to listings.

#Business self definition:
Tagging allows businesses to tag their listing according to where they *want* to do business.  This is especially important when you consider that different business types work over radically different geographic scopes; consider the geo scope of say a gardener versus the geo scope of a yacht broker.  The flip-side of this is user self-selection (the two work in concert); that when looking for a yacht broker a user may search for Europe, Florida Keys, or France (not Myville, or Localtown); and that when searching for a gardener they will naturally use a much more local definition.

#Evolution of tag-style searches in other web behaviors:
The use of tags to replace traditional ‘more scientific’ methods (tags versus hierarchical taxonomies/classification structures, and geo tags versus radiating search) is becoming more prevalent on the web and an accepted behavior that allows consumers and publishers (businesses in the case of business listings) to naturally reach a equilibrium of self regulation.  What I mean by this is that instead of maintaining a complex (and by definition rigid) taxonomy you use tags to allow that taxonomy to evolve naturally over time (some people may be familiar with the term folksonomy).  We see the same rules that apply to a hierarchical category taxonomy applying to a radiating geo search.

It’s not a short answer, but as with all simple concepts the wiring under the board is often more complex than you’d imagine.  But in short geo tags let users and busineses define what works best for them, without the arbitrary rules that the traditional directories had to enforce.

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