When Local Search Goes Terribly Wrong

Local search has become a hot niche within the overall search landscape. Web searchers want to easily access data about what’s around them as efficiently as possible. As a result, more local search tools are popping up.

Whatsopen.com is one of these new local search destinations. Originally released at the beginning of the year in “Beta,” WhatsOpen’s only unique feature was its claim to provide hours of operation data for businesses that appeared for a user’s search query. Unfortunately, upon using the site for only a few seconds it became clear that the initial version of Whats Open had completely inaccurate and useless data, and had little more to offer than a cute frog logo and some fluffy language hyping their supposed testing in China and a pending mobile application just around the corner.

Although Whats Open was nothing more than a less useful version Google Maps, they did have a strong viral response thanks to some cleverly executed rumors. High profile blogs from Engadget to Gizmodo to Valleywag covered Whats Open leading up to and following its launch, not for its functionality (as there wasn’t any), but for its rumored relationship with Google as a potential Google Android application. All these stories explored the Google angle and didn’t really pay any attention to the Whats Open site itself.

After a short hiatus where a splash page promised an-all new version of the weak local search engine, Whats Open has gloriously been re-launched just this week. Luckily, the new website now features…well…no new functionality. But instead of a cute frog, the site now has a logo with a cool new attitude with spray paint and freeways around it! Clearly they didn’t take Google’s approach to good design, and rather than providing a simple layout that maximizes function over form, they chose to have a handsome albeit over-the-top design that is absent of any real value.

Whats Open is what’s wrong with local search. It’s simply a waste for users. The entire unique selling proposition is the availability of the hours of operation for businesses, but they can’t even get that right! Just like the previous version, the data is inaccurate and useless. Do they just expect users to not notice? Interestingly, in the previous version, users were able to login and edit the information if they felt charitable enough to provide the data for them, but they seemed to have removed the ability to edit the content in its current version, hmm.

We’ve featured stories on local search before. Local Buzzer is similarly an up-and-coming local search site, but it provides a vastly more useful experience for users. Not only does it provide useful mapping and address data, but it provides relevant links to websites, an events calendar, user reviews, coupon offers, and a wealth of other value information about the business the user is trying to find, including hours of operation! It’s more than just a Google Map mashup – it’s truly a local search tool.

When it comes to local search, there are plenty of options for users. First, there are the established local search portals that have become increasingly popular thanks to their clever social networking functionality. Yelp is one of these destinations, as it has a rapidly growing and active user base that has contributed greatly to its wealth of content thanks to the site’s solid foundation and features. Even Citysearch remains a user favorite for restaurant ratings and reviews.

But before all else, users have the top tier search engines themselves to locate all the local search data they could ever want! Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask all feature local search capabilities that are constantly being developed to provide users with a more robust search experience. Looking at Ask’s, local search portal, it provides the type or specialties of the business, amenities, what type of payments are accepted, user reviews, search results related to the business, and…wait for it…the hours of operation! Even Yahoo! has Upcoming which goes a step further and provides useful local even information.

As local search becomes more important and relevant to searchers, especially as more users are adopting mobile technology and need to know what’s happening around them, local search engines and portals will become more valuable to users. The top search engines have done a good job of providing the technology that facilitates effective location-based searches, and websites such as Yelp have provided an environment where users actually want to become involved and contribute to the community and its content. When it comes to local and mobile search, websites such as What’s Open are simply useless and shouldn’t promise what they clearly don’t deliver.


Reviews of more new websites coming soon.

One Response

  1. Brian Hall August 4, 2008

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