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A9 Launches Yellow Pages
Over 20 Million Images Plus Block View

 9:04 am on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

From John Battelle's Searchblog

A9 took more than 20 million images of 14 million+ businesses across ten cities (more are coming soon), then created a local search application they call Block View.


After just a few minutes, I'm pretty impressed especially with the image database. Surprisingly, I even found my one of my favorite restaurants from home. As such, I'd say they've already expanded well beyond 10 cities. While I guess it is a glorified Yellow Pages, hence the name, it is nice to see A9 release an original product.

Give it a go at:


Bonus points to anyone that has more than two results within their zipcode


[edited by: Brett_Tabke at 9:05 pm (utc) on Jan. 27, 2005]
[edit reason] added links [/edit]



 2:18 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

Bonus points to anyone that has more than two results within their zip code

24 for 'sushi restaurant', and my favorite isn't even listed.

They did a lot of work on this one, some very good results. Although, taking individual pictures of buildings seems very time/cost intensive, and one has to wonder how profitable such actions will be.

The search result buttons are pretty amazing. The ability to do one search, and then quickly switch between views provides a very unique functionality.

As an aside, I am surprised that they are showing National AdWords ads when regionals are available for several searches I preformed.


 2:59 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)



 3:41 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

I pride myself on being able to read very complex intensive pages but wow there is way too much on those pages for the average visitor.


 3:46 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

There really is a chicken 'n waffles place within my zipcode, but A9 didn't find it. I guess it is too new, it has only been there about 6 months.

For other establishments, I noticed that that the photos were off by about half a block. Seems like they still have some kinks.

I wonder about some of the people captured in the photos. I'd hate to be caught coming out of some establishments.

The local development office has a similiar application that let's you 'walk the street' showing photos of each location and listing the businesses. I've found it somewhat amusing but of no real use.


 4:06 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

So A9 sent people around in trucks with digital cameras and took 20M photos?

That's unbelievable.

Search wise they need a lot of work, but the images are impressive.

But I wonder, how many people make a call on a restaurant, bank, bar, doctor, etc - based on what the building looks like?


 4:41 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

Did a little playing with this today and overall, I'm not impressed. My opinions though...


1. I like being able to alter what results I see by distance. I.e. not showing listings more than 10 miles away, because I have no intention of driving that far.
2. I do like the ability to see surrounding businesses. This is probably the only "ingenuitive" thing they've done.
3. When you are on a category page, when you mouse over a listing, it highlights where the listing is on the map. Just a nifty side feature. I also like the sort by distance feature in the categories.
4. They have the ability for reviews.


1. Having the search box and the city state box that far apart is a pain in the rear.
2. The individual listing pages are way too busy. I'm being distracted left and right while trying to figure out what I'm looking at.
3. The call business feature is weird and unnecessary. I am capable of dialing a phone last I checked.
4. Their category sorting abilities leave a lot to be desired. I'm looking at a category for hair salons and they have everything from doctors to CPA's listed in the category.
5. Tried a search for a misspell: restaraunts and they couldn't figure out what I wanted and gave me an unable to find matches message.
6. This "walk up and down the street thing" apparently only occurs in major metro areas. It was fun/neat to do for about 30 seconds. I also got lost while "walking the neighborhood". Also couldn't figure out how to click on a business I was seeing to find out what it was. Seeing pics of the inside of the business I could see, especially a restaurant/bar - help get the feel - but the outside?
7. I cannot stress how bad the usability is. And frankly, Amazon's main site is the textbook classic "DO" example on usability, so, I have to admit, I'm shocked at the horrid usability of their local engine. My Amazon usability shrine now needs to be taken down.

All in all, great PR management as far as "how can we get people to talk about this thing" - but after the gimmick wears off, I'm left asking myself an old line from a 80's commercial - Where's the beef?


 5:12 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

It reminds me a lot of metrobot, with being able to see what the next businesses were on the block, and being able to walk up or down a street. I could not figure out how to take corners with it, but if they add that feature it will cool.

I still do not think this will be very helpful to people, but it may be nice to associate what a building looks like if you are new in town or looking to go to a new part of town that you have never been in.

The search box on the top of the results page is pretty stupid...it is to change the location rather then change what you are looking for. It just seems like you would be much more likely to change what you were looking for rather then the location, I just do not understand it.

My guess is they will let you eventually add a place to you itinerary go to your next one, then the next and map it all out for you... which would be interesting, but probably more time consuming to map then just to go and do...good for an out-of-towner though.

And after further review it seems like they want you to go through their site more as a directory than a search engine... which I do not like.

Rae you mentioned the pay per call being awkward...I agree...but as time moves on more people will accept the use of pay per call. Also I think that is there probably for buzz and to make it so people use it, so that they can charge for the service(charge the merchant) at a later date.

Overall I really like the idea of them doing this, I not really understand why use the pictures, but I would imagine this would have been a really fun project to design and I think it will go far from a PR standpoint.


 5:29 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

The "how we did it" link is particularly interesting - SUV's with GPS receivers. All the location and picture entry was automated, the driving was the *only* thing that required human intervention.

OT: what is even more interesting is that I have two chicken and waffle resturants in my vicinity. Finally a combination that truly rivals louisiana fried chicken and chinese food.


 5:44 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

If memory serves, didn't infoUSA try to do something along these lines with VideoYellowPages.com? As I recall, there was no business model behind merchant images and they closed up shop.


 5:50 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

"But I wonder, how many people make a call on a restaurant, bank, bar, doctor, etc - based on what the building looks like? "

I do. Just kidding. The idea is to offer something different. Everyone has text only yellow pages, this is different and seeing the pictures, at least provides you some comfort. They're trying to be different.


 6:15 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

They did not find the sushi place across the street from me. They have not made it to Houston with their camera yet.


 6:21 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

Its fun and amazing to see the pictures and anyone will truely appreciate the effort they put in but said all this i dont think its practical and there is no real need for a service like this!


 7:49 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think it's one of the more innovative things I've seen in local search. It would be great if they worked in a way to navigate corners and essentially take a tour of the neighborhood. Find a coffee shop next to your doctors office or maybe where you're going to park when you head out to dinner in the city.

The results aren't different than anything else I'm seeing in the industry. The interface needs work, but overall, I like it.

This is nice step forward and shows that Amazon is interested in playing in the local search field.


 9:43 pm on Jan 27, 2005 (gmt 0)

I think it's a phenomenal idea. I was not very impressed with the results but I'm sure over time it will get better. I live in an extremely populated area and searched for "grocery stores" - they seemed to have every two-bit grocery store within two miles - many of which have no interest in Internet advertising - they survive on foot traffic and these guys would laugh you out the door if you brought up pay per call.

When I searched for restuarants in my area it returned three and they were five miles away. So I think the whole system is sort of hit or miss. I'd like to see a9 bring in some affiliates into the mix to build up their database of local biz - I think its the only way to get it off the ground.

chicken waffles results in 60625 Chicago = 0
starbucks within 5 miles = 50+

Robert Charlton

 6:00 am on Jan 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

Having the search box and the city state box that far apart is a pain in the rear.

chrisnrae - That's the understatement of the century. I can't imagine what they were thinking. The designer must have been using a very larger screen just to include them both above the fold.

All of your comments about design and usability are right on. It's atrocious. And it's very slow.

This "walk up and down the street thing" apparently only occurs in major metro areas. It was fun/neat to do for about 30 seconds.

The place that was listed didn't even appear until the last picture, the furthest on the right. When I clicked on the "Best Image?" checkbox, I guess they figured they had a sucker and they took me to another page, a form page with the headline "What is your email address?"

I've got to get a smog test next week, so I've been trying various local search options to see which were worth using. A9's results were the worst I've seen so far.


 6:58 pm on Jan 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

I believe there is a serious place for photo enhanced local search. I'm not at all convinced this is the best implementation.


 11:03 pm on Jan 29, 2005 (gmt 0)

Ken, I'd love to hear more on your thoughts on photos and local search.


 12:26 am on Jan 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

My thoughts on photo enhanced local search are strongly tied to my thoughts on landmarking in local search mapping. In my mind local search with landmarking maps and photo enhancement may well be the holy grail of the species.

People are simply visual creatures.

It seems to me that we are a lot more likely to recall physical features and landmarks than we are to remember an address, a street name, or even a business name.

Just think about how people often describe locations or give directions.

"It's just a little ways past the (name a business/landmark). You can't miss it, there's a big blue sign/awning/feature over-the-door/out front/across-the-street"

The problem is how to work mapping, landmarking, and images into an effective page.

It may be just my opinion, but all too often it seems like the goal is too cram as much info on the screen as possible. That leads to pages that seem to take forever to load, and are packed with info that's not really relevant.

Imagine a simple list of businesses ordered by street address or type, (ie: gift shops in Memphis, or gift shops on Main St in Memphis) you could run your cursor down and see a series of thumbnail photos pop up as you moved down the list.

With a "landmarks search" option button/icon next to a list you might include all the business with-in (some distance) on the street. That would let folks run their cursor down the expanded list looking for other businesses/landmarks they recall. "Yup, that must be the place, there's the church on the corner"

Or a map that you could run your cursor along a highway and see the images pop up as you went.

Click the business name or image, go to the listing page.

My thinking is that giving folks as many options as possible to search in the way they think can only lead to a better user experience.

That's as opposed to trying to force folks to search in the manner chosen for them.

None of which is to say that local search as we know it now is bad, just that it can get a whole lot better.

I'm not saying such a local search site needs to have a photo of every business listed, although the more the better. I'd go for the landmarks and upsell the image concept to the merchants as part of a premium listing. :)

But hey, these are just the ramblings of a cranky, opinionated old man. :)


 9:57 pm on Jan 30, 2005 (gmt 0)

I agree with others that the implementation/interface reeks. I like the idea though. I appreciate seeing a business front. In part for aiding in locating the place, but more for the insight it provides. From dentist, to butcher, to accountant, the building front tells me alot about whether I want to be a patron.

I wonder about freshness though. Freshness is already an issue with Local. Will the video cam operations be like painting big bridges... once you get to the end you start over again?


 8:39 pm on Feb 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

Driving directions: as a safety feature, I would love if the last direction tells you if the location is on your left or right. How many times do you drive looking for a building number. If you know ahead of time, that's more time your eyes spend on the road.


 8:42 pm on Feb 1, 2005 (gmt 0)

GPS: A9.com can license the technology from catalogs.google.com for OCR of storefront signs. Their GPS a poster mentioned earlier is sometimes half block off. If you have OCR that can figure out the store name, A9 can use that as a starting point to associate the correct picture with the business. An editor could do this by hand, but it would not scale very well. Either that or use better quality GPS.


 9:15 pm on Feb 4, 2005 (gmt 0)

After checking out Block View for a couple days, I need to revise my initial assessment.

I think the ability to scroll through blocks and blocks of street views is an amazing accomplishment.

Sometimes I think we all get so caught up in what's possible through technology, that we might overlook what's possible through good old fashioned grunt work - in this case sending kids out in vans with digital cameras.

But yes, I have to think freshness will be a problem...especially as there is no InfoUSA or Acxiom type service providers to outsource this stuff out to.

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