Saturday, June 02, 2007

Free Repair Information on the Road?

Mobile Search For Emergency Repair?

You are on the road and one spoke breaks. Then another. Your wheel rubs against the brakes, even with the brakes open wide. Your cell phone can be helpful to call someone to bail you out, but it can also be helpful in another way. New free search services could help you locate a nearby bicycle shop. If it’s near enough, you might be able to get a repair/replacement right away and never have to suffer the indignity of having to be picked up in a (gasp) …car.
I tried 3 such free, voice recognition search services to see how well they worked. First, I assumed I needed help from my office location in downtown Chicago.


This is Microsoft’s entry, and covers not only businesses, but also stocks, news, sports, travel and other categories. Let’s look at approximately what I was asked, my answers, and how good the search was.
1. Listened to a brief commercial for the service.
2. Listened to available categories. I answered “Business Search”
3. City and state: “Chicago, Illinois”
4. Business type: “Bicycle”
5. Neighborhood: “Loop”
6. The top 5 search results were given, without any addresses. These were Bicycle Station (in Millenium Park), the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation (wonder if they fix flats?) and 2 bike shops: Appreciated, and Performance. Performance, at 2720 N. Halstead, is much farther from the Loop than a number of other shops, so hearing it was a surprise.
7. When I repeated the search, it asked for the city and state again, but didn’t re-ask the neighborhood. After Bicycle Station, it listed a shop I was unfamiliar with that turned out to be at 2271 E. 71st St, much too far away to be of interest. It was also hard to understand the pronunciation of the shop names.
Net: not too bad, but was strangely missing closer options.


This is Google’s entry. It didn’t start with a commercial
1. City and state: “Chicago, Illinois” – note it didn’t ask for a neighborhood.
2. Type of business: “Bicycle”
3. The top search results were: Village on N. Wells, Rapid Transit on North, Performance on Halstead, Johnny Sprockets, an entry I missed, and the two Kozy shops in/near the Loop.
Net: Good results, and I liked the fact that a partial address was given with the listing, but since they hadn’t asked for any neighborhood information it would apparently give the same results if you were in a Chicago neighborhood such as Rogers Park, Pullman, Hyde Park or Beverly. These would not be good results for those locations.


This is run by Jingle Networks. I was waiting for a catchy advertising jingle, but there wasn’t one.
1. City and state: “Chicago, Illinois”
2. Type: “Business” (they also have government residential listings)
3. Search by category or name of business: “Category”
4. Category: “Bicycle”
5. Neighborhood or landmark: “Loop”
6. The top search results: On the Route Bicycles on Lincoln Avenue (4 miles away), Army Navy Surplus on Lincoln Avenue, Underwater Safari Chicago on Lincoln Avenue, Home Stretch Pilot, Advantage Tennis, Golfsmith. Notable in these results is that it seemed to have mapped “Loop” to “Lincoln Avenue” and “Bicycle” into the more general category of “Sporting Goods”. Neither was helpful.
Net: Weakest of the 3 services on this search.

All of these services were substantially worse than using my laptop to make a Google Maps search for “Bicycle” near my office location. This shows the closest bike shops are Mission Bay (never mentioned by any of the 3 services), two Kozy’s locations, Appreciated, Bike Chicago (never mentioned) and Upgrade (never mentioned), all within 1.1 miles.

Second try

For the second try, I decided to assume I was actually on the road in Palmyra, Wisconsin, near Kettle Moraine’s south unit. I wanted to see which services would give me Backyard Bikes / LaGrange Country Store in LaGrange, about 5 miles south.

TELL gave me two shops, one on Main St. in Whitewater and the other in Douzman. They missed Backyard Bikes, but the two shops are reasonable -- I’ve had an emergency repair done in Douzman when I lost two spokes, and it’s a nice combination bike and coffee shop.

GOOG gave me 3 Whitewater shops, 1 Douzman, 1 in Mudwango (I must have heard that wrong). One of these was the LaGrange shop, the actual address of which is W 6098 US Highway 12 in Whitewater, since LaGrange is too small for its own post office. But if I was on the road, I wouldn’t know that.

FREE listed five shops, but listed only the street address without the city. So, the first two were on Main St, but it didn’t tell me what city they were in. This would be important, since I was asking for Palmyra and these shops were actually in Whitewater! This is a minor irritation, since if you asked for more information on the listing, you would get the city. More irritating is that, once again, although TELL said that it was searching for bicycle dealers, it included a “Marine” shop and a “Bait and Tackle” shop in its listings.

So, once again GOOG is the best, TELL is useful, and FREE is weak. None of the three would have given me the best answer in a way I would have recognized it if I was unfamiliar with the area.

None can yet match asking the old guy in the local hardware store.