Tuesday, November 1

Google's AutoLink In Action

Google is heavily promoting its toolbar on its website. Google has even gone so far as polluting its once pristine home page with adverts. It has embarked on an aggressive campaign to boost its desktop market penetration. The advertising and marketing blitz is not surprising in light of the recent partnership with Sun. Today, I want to focus attention on a feature of the toolbar I never used or understood until recently -- AutoLink.



Google's Promotion of the AutoLink Feature

So the question is, what is this auto-link feature and why should we care. In short it provides a tie into Google maps from wherever you happen to be. No more, find an address, go to mapquest, go back to other website, copy address, paste address, etc... You get the picture. Instant access to maps at your fingertips from your current context. Very Useful.

As it stands, AutoLink is good, but far from perfect. To test it, I went to a local yellow page website and did a search for cafe. I've got to keep tabs on my competition after all ;-). What is really interesting is what AutoLink misses!


AutoLink In Action

Here are some addresses it misses:
131 Colonie Ctr..
Empire State Plz..
Central & Colvin Ave..
Corner Central & Col ...
Executive Park ...

What I observe is that it handles the pattern: [numeric] [words]+ [street OR st OR Avenue OR ave OR boulevard OR blvd road OR rd]+ [words (like apartment/suite)]* ... city, state, etc..

It is pretty fragile in that it doesn't seem to handle: center / ctr as a street, non-numeric addresses (like Empire State Plaza), and it doesn't handle intersections. Parsing addresses correctly is not any easy job to do reliably. I hoped Google might outshine the others, but it looks like they are still human after all ;-). Good work guys, let's get that other 20%!

So how'd they do that? Well, it is a firefox plugin, so it probably isn't that hard to imagine. All you need to do is write an address parser in Javascript. If I have time later tonight perhaps I will do a little hacking and see if I can't confirm this 100%. This is a simple, stupid implementation. It's cool because it works on ANY page, intranet, database driven website, etc... It 's scope is global, but it is very limited in features.

An alternate and more complex implementation might be to look up the page in Google's meta-data index / Google local to find the entities with addresses on that page. This would be very powerful because you could have names of companies whose address might not appear on the page itself, but that are in Google local. You could then link these pages as well. This would be very very cool. The downside is that it wouldn't return things for Joe Blow's home because it isn't in Google local. Hmm, perhaps I might consider hacking around with the Google local API and see if I can't whip something up.

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