I got back late Saturday night from a week visiting family on the East Coast to discover I was on the eve of our Drilling Down event without enough shirts, etc. for the conference — I had neglected to take in my dry cleaning/laundry prior to leaving the previous week.
(This isn't gratuitous self-disclosure, there's a point to the story.)
I'm sorry to say that since today was Sunday and most dry cleaners (strangely) aren't open on Sunday I struck out. But it wasn't for lack of trying — both the printed Yellow Pages and the Internet failed me.
I first went to my local printed Yellow Pages and looked under "Dry Cleaners," but the heading didn't exist. Funny. I then looked under "Cleaners" and found ads for local dry cleaners. However, most of the ads were bold listings with only thin contact information (not very helpful).
It became clear to me that I was going to spend a lot of time calling dry cleaners to ask if they were open, plus I had no way of really judging which ones were closest to me, except in a very general sense.
I then fired up the Internet and went to Google and plugged in "dry cleaner open Sunday Oakland, CA." There were lots of results but after clicking several of them it was clear that I wasn't going to get a link to a listing for a dry cleaner that was in my area and actually open on Sunday. (One thing that was very interesting was Google's own promotion of mobile.google.com.)
I then went to Google Local and plugged in the same search in the appropriate boxes with even less satisfactory results.
I repeated the entire process with SuperPages, Yahoo!, Citysearch and AOL with similar frustration. I even called directory assistance (411) and tried to get the information that way.
The operator didn't know what to make of my request. "This is a category search," I said. "I need to find a dry cleaner open today." She was totally confounded. My bitter retort was: "You guys better figure out a way to answer that kind of question or DA is done." (She must have thought I was psychotic.)
While it is possible that no dry cleaner is in fact open Sunday, this is the sort of local search that should be readily answered by the engines/IYPs. Why can't they do it? (Remember that the physical Yellow Pages did little for me as well, except for those few display advertisers whose hours were printed.)
They can't do it because the information isn't yet there. (This is why Yahoo!'s free Web hosting offer is very compelling — it solicits more content from local merchants and offers something they want in return: to be found.)
"Dry cleaner open Sunday Oakland, CA" can't effectively be answered by algorithmic search today. Structured data is at the core of local search and it's what's required to provide a satisfactory answer to my query.
The IYPs and the search engines need to provide incentives to local businesses (Yahoo! and SuperPages, for example, are trying to do that) to get more content online. Meanwhile, the printed Yellow Pages equally have to do the same thing — figure out a way to get more content in the book to make it more useful to consumers (with a more intuitive heading structure).
In the end, I called the conference hotel and asked them if they had a service, which they did — in by 9 back by 5.