Local search doesn’t work

Social media’s not going to fix it

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that local search yields terrible results. Just try searching for a specific product or service on-line and, if you’re like me, more than half the time it will be an exercise in frustration. Local search won’t find me either a good neighbourhood Italian restaurant or a plumber or, assuming I could get an appointment, a pediatrician.

Most local directories are little more than terrible search engines combined with a platform for delivering ads. In some cases, they also have a user generated content angle, which is almost always useless.

This is why there are so many companies promising to exploit the future of local search and offering some kind of combination of local search and social media — the “I want to know what my friends like” approach.

But this is a fundamentally flawed model for two reasons. First off, local has consistently shown itself to face problems working up to the necessary critical mass of user generated content, so any new local search entity — even those with megabrands to back them up — needs to understand why it’s going to be different. And secondly, one of the enduring mysteries of friendship is how often friends have completely different tastes. Who hasn’t, for example, decided what movie not to see precisely because buddy Joe liked it?

The internet has helped us find others with similar tastes by moving us away from local and into a bigger world where social media and UGC have far more currency. But many of the new local search business models propose to take us back to that smaller world on little more than a wing and a Web 2.0 prayer.

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