File Under: Software & Tools

Goby Gets Local Search Right

Goby is new search engine designed to help you find something to do. The site searches across hundreds of websites and pulls in thousands of results pointing to local music happenings, museums, activities, sports games, entertainment events and restaurants.

Goby searches through events databases from big sites like Upcoming, Eventful and Yahoo Local to smaller ones like museum sites, hiking guides and hundreds more, combining all the relevant results in one list of search results.

The results are impressive, whether applied to your hometown or a vacation destination. In fact, Goby’s local search engine is possibly the best we’ve ever used.

Part of what makes Goby smarter than a typical Google search also makes it slightly more complicated. Rather than simply searching for terms, Goby asks you a series of questions: what do you want to do, where do you want to do it and when? The minimalist home page invites you to start a query by filling in three blank boxes, but Goby quickly jumps in, suggesting search terms and asking you to point to an area of focus on a map or pick a date range from a pop-up calendar.

However, while the initial search process might be a tad more complex, the results are well worth it. Once it has your input, Goby trolls through a vast index of information, pulling out events and destinations in your area for the time period you selected.

It’s worth noting that the results aren’t necessarily ranked. As Goby CEO Mark Watkins tells Webmonkey, that’s by design.

“We’re not trying to take an editorial view that says result A is better than result B,” says Watkins. Rather, Goby’s goal is to “surface up the information so that you can make the most of your free time, based on your own criteria.”

Depending on your search, Goby’s results can be rather extensive, which means you could use up a good part of your free time just sifting though your options. Fortunately, while Goby may not rank, it does have plenty of time and distance filters that make it easy to narrow things down to a specific area or a start time to help you find something you like.

For example a search for “live music” in Athens, GA this weekend returned results from Jambase.com, Last.fm, Culture Mob, Upcoming, Eventful and a bunch of other sites. The aggregation of various outside resources created by far the single most complete list of live music in Athens that I’ve seen online (sadly, good local web search is something sorely lacking in Athens).

Goby isn’t just about music. There are plenty of other options — everything from outdoor activities to museums to ball games. And the results were very good for just about everything I tried. A search for hiking trails in the “North Georgia mountains” pulled in 250 trails from dozens of websites.

One great feature that isn’t immediately obvious is the “distance radius” filter on Goby’s map tool. It allows you to quickly narrow results to, for example, within a half mile of your house or within 25 miles of the hotel you’ll be staying in.

Of course, Goby isn’t perfect. Aggregating data from numerous sources as Goby does means that your results will have a number of duplicates — the same music event listed on both Upcoming and Eventful will show up twice in Goby’s list. It’s a little annoying. I’d like to see Goby filter and combine duplicates, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Watkins rightly points out that because each result leads back to a different source, there is different data to be found in each result. For example, in the screenshot above, clicking though to both the listings would get different sets of user perspective and comment. For the launch, Watkins says Goby wanted to “preserve those perspectives,” though he says that Goby is still working out how to handle duplicate results.

The most frustrating thing about Goby is that it lacks RSS feeds. Call us spoiled, but Everyblock has conditioned us to believe that every filterable chunk of data deserves a feed.

Of course, in some cases, RSS feeds on Goby wouldn’t make sense. But a recurring search like “live music in my town tomorrow night” would be the perfect thing to drop in your feed reader so you’ll always know about upcoming shows. For now, you’ll have to do without the RSS feeds, though Watkins says Goby is “certainly thinking about them, along with many other ideas.”

I should also note that, at the moment Goby is limited to the United States. But if you’re looking for something to do inside the U.S., Goby is one of the best places to find it.

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