Can You “Near Me Now”?

Weren’t we just talking about what’s different about mobile search use cases and about how to make web search more exploratory? I may be biased, but I think that Google’s recently launched “near me now” button is a step in the right direction (no pun intended!) on both of these fronts.

I’m curious to hear unbiased feedback from iPhone and Android users who have gotten to play with it.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

19 replies on “Can You “Near Me Now”?”

Thanks Daniel – I hadn’t seen this! While I think it’s very cool and I’ll probably use it in one fashion or another, I still think an app provides a more rich experience (the old thin/thick client debate). For example, why wouldn’t I just use the Yelp app’s “Nearby” feature to find restaurants near me. Granted, this completely depends on what phone you’re surfing on and may very well be a viable alternative for some.


I agree that thin clients lag thick ones even more in mobile than on desktops. But there’s a price to the walled garden of an app–it breaks the smooth bidirectional connectedness of the web. All else equal, I favor web clients in order to best take advantage of that rich ecosystem.


Facinating and useful, no doubt. I tried locating a toy store near me just this morning, accessing a local yellow pages directory from my iPhone. It worked, but not as smooth as Googles new service.

But back then, where we talking about mobile search or real-time search? Do you see a difference there at all, between real-time indexing and real-time access to information?

I think about mobile search, like in this example, as real-time access to information, which is characteristic to the mobile medium. The information itself may not be real-time, like historical restaurant reviews.

Twitter, on the other hand, I consume both in real-time and “over-time”. The information I consume, however, is defininetly real-time, like rumours on Apples iSlate.

I feel daring on a Saturday evening, and will even attempt to define both of these concepts. Please tell me if you feel I’m way of base with this 🙂

Mobile search = real-time access to “over-time” information.

Real-time search = “over-time” access to real-time information.


I think it’ s neat feature. And one (by the way) that my Garmin Nuvi GPS has had for over three years now (I bought it in December ’06) — based on the current position of the Nuvi you can get a list of what is around you. And you can even refine your geographic query by business type.. gas stations, retail stores, restaurants.. and even what type of restaurant (Vietnamese, Greek, etc.)

Sure, the Nuvi pulled from a database rather than the web. So maybe if you need to know what someone said about a restaurant 10 minutes ago, rather than 3 months ago, this represents a step forward. But otherwise, how is this different?

And how is it really exploratory? In the video, the couple is standing outside of a restaurant and deciding whether or not to go in. So they do a known-item search for that restaurant and read the reviews. That’s not exploratory at all! It’s different than keyword search; they are not doing a keyword search, they are doing a geographical position search. But it’s still a known item search. Give me a ranked list of restaurants near this current position.

I’m not deliberately trying to be contrarian.. I just don’t see where you see the Exploratory in this. Could you elaborate?


Vegard: I agree that a key aspect of mobile search is reducing how long you have to wait to get access to information. But to what extent does mobile search imply that your current location matters? Does it assume an impoverished interface relative to a desktop client, or have mobile devices already closed the gap to within striking distance? Is mobile search on a smart / “super” phone really indistinguishable from search on a desktop?

As for real-time search, I’ll cover it soon as I keep promising!


Jeremy, I agree that retrieving the information about a known restaurant or even a ranked list of restaurants near this current position isn’t particularly exploratory. But the experience when you click “Browse more categories” is — it lets you browse nearby business by categories, and the categories themselves are informative, particularly in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

But I concede there’s a long way to go. In particular, I’d like to see restaurants organized by facets. Still, it’s progress.


But the experience when you click “Browse more categories” is — it lets you browse nearby business by categories, and the categories themselves are informative, particularly in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

It flashed by rather quickly in the video.. do you have any screen shots that you can share, to help me see what is happening?

Yeah, my Garmin Nuvi from 2006 does allow you either (a) see every business around you, no matter what the category, or (b) see every category, and then pick which one you want to see more details on (restaurants, shopping, travel, etc.)

So it sounds like the feature you are describing is not unlike Vivisimo, where you start with a ranked list of “near me now” results, and the system automatically clusters the nearest ones into a smaller set of categories, which you can then browse. Is this a correct understanding? If so, then yes, I agree; it’s an exploratory step, something more than the Nuvi had.

You’re working on local search now, right? Did you have a hand in pushing this forward?


it lets you browse nearby business by categories, and the categories themselves are informative, particularly in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

By the way, the same is true for general web search. If Google were to ever work on clustering if the results, and then show me the classifications of each cluster, those cluster labels themselves would be informative, particularly in an unfamiliar information neighborhood.

Once you solve local, you should get the web folks to start moving on this… 🙂


Daniel – I’m still seeing those problematic results on the map for ATMs/Banks, Coffee Shops, Restaurants. You may not see them unless you zoom out of the map perhaps.

I thought at first it was due to the state of the google maps app, but when I zoomed that right in to my location and then went via near my now again I still got the same bad results.

This makes the mapping feature pretty much useless from my location (Seattle, WA).


Jeremy, I don’t have screenshots–and I haven’t yet installed an app to capture them on my Nexus One. Basically, at the bottom of the list of standard categories (Restaurants, Coffee Shops, Bars, ATMs and Banks) is a link to Browse More Categories. And no, I didn’t have any hand in this; I’m just offering praise for steps in the right direction–in this case from my own employer. I do think this is easier to do for local search than for general web search–data quality is an issue, but at least businesses fit into a more controlled world than general web pages. But, as I said in an earlier post, I could imagine a path that takes us to HCIR for general web search (or at least much of it) one vertical at a time.

Matt, I wish I could reproduce your bug on my own phone. I tried the same sequence here in New York (both with and without GPS enabled) and everything works fine. Wish it were easier to get a diff between our environments. If you don’t see this resolved sooner, we can compare notes at SSM!


Well, I’m not going to be buying an iPhone any time soon, either.

I can’t stand the small screens (relative to a desktop computer) on either phone, and I hate touchscreen. I need haptic feedback.

I also don’t feel the need to do most of my searching on the go. I usually search prior to leaving, so that I’m ready whenever I get somewhere. Not to mention that doing it on the desktop is much easier/richer/faster.

And what I do need (e.g. GPS) I already have in the car.


..and if I ever find myself spontaneously in front of some restaurant (i.e. I haven’t take then time to find a good restaurant before I left home), I’m of the mindset that there is a certain spontaneity in just trying some place out. Do I really need to do a GPS search to get the Yelp review of the place right in front of me? Given the rate at which I am in those situations, probably not. It’s only a single meal, after all. If it’s bad, I’m out a couple of bucks. If it’s good, I’m pleasantly surprised.

And I haven’t had to pay a couple hundred bucks for a smartphone, to tell me all this in the first place. With the money I save on the phone, I could probably even take 2 bites of the meal, walk out, and try another restaurant, and still come out ahead 🙂


I used to feel the same way about mobile phones in general, and then later about mobile access to email. And I doubt that I would have bought the latest technology had I not received it as a gift–I’m consistent at a late adopter of gadgets, at least in my circle of peers.

That said, I search on the go all the time. Perhaps I’m becoming lazy–I feel less of a need to search for information in advance, knowing that I can get it when I need it. But I’m happy to live a life of information luxury.


You’re also a New Yorker. I think it’s different in the city. I’ve lived various years of my life in London, Prague, and Vienna. Were I still in one of those places, I probably would find it a little more useful than I do now.

Nevertheless, I still think it depends on what one is after. If one really wants to find the best possible restaurant from one’s current location, then it could be useful. But if I am planning on going out to eat some night, I’m going to pick the restaurant first, ahead of time, and travel there. Rather than travel downtown and then simply hope that there is something good within a few blocks of wherever I randomly get off the subway.

Same with salsa dancing. If I want to go dancing somewhere, I’m going to find the place first, rather than hope that there is a club within a few blocks of where I happen to be.


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