Google Implementing Places API Search Refinements

Developer & Design

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One of the more interesting things Google has been involved with recently is its Places API. When it brought search along for the ride, it made the Places API even more valuable. There were still areas in which search could be improved. Thankfully, Google has been proactive in bringing updates to the Places API to make it more valuable to developers, businesses and consumers.

Using search before, you could only look for certain types of places like restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. While there are over 100 of these search terms, Google has found it to be sorely lacking when it comes to specific search results. That's why keyword search has been introduced into the API. Now, people can search for places based on an "arbitrary text string." What this means is that users can now search for places based on specific keywords which Google will match up with what they know about the places in their database.

The second change is that searches can now also be ranked by distance. By default, the Places API prioritizes locations by popularity, just like in Google Maps. While great for places like restaurants, it's not great for places like banks. Most people want to know the bank that is closest to them, not the most popular location. With the new rank by distance feature, search results will be listed in order of proximity.

To illustrate these changes, Google has provided a map of the San Francisco area with a search query for restaurants. The keyword used is Mexican which only brings up Mexican restaurants and nothing else. It's still not perfect as one of the results for Mexican restaurants is the Betty Boop's Diner. I'm sure they serve tacos or some kind of Tex-Mex, but it's not a Mexican restaurant. There's even the inclusion of a non-restaurant on the list with Simayof Engagement Rings.

The lesson here is that the Google Places API is not perfect. The keywords work most of the time, but the results still get a little screwed up. It's better than nothing and I'm sure it will get better as Google fine tunes the search algorithm for the Places API.