The sky is falling: Google goes to two fields 15 Mar 2005

41 comments Latest by ERE

Google Local breaks new complexity ground (well, complex for Google standards) with the new two-field approach. Now they ask “What” and “Where” with separate fields.

Google Maps let you type in something like “Pizza in 60622” and get pizza places in 60622, but I wonder if people know you can do that. The two-field solution definitely wins for implied purpose. I wonder if they went this way because of negative testing/feedback on the standard 1-field, or if they’re just testing out a new approach. Thoughts?

41 comments (comments are closed)

Ryan Powers 15 Mar 05

To me, the two field approach is much more intuitive for the average user. At the same time though, I think it will take awhile for such local search tools to catch on in the main stream. Most people think yellowpages when looking for a pizza joint in their area…

Justin P 15 Mar 05

I like the one-field solution better, but I agree that the two fields (at least seem) more user friendly and intuitive. I’ve been using the Local Google for quite some time now and it is impressively accurate.

My only gripe is the domain name sucks if you’ve got a webserver running locally (localhost), keeps trumping my localhost in the “Recently typed” drop down.

J Sullivan 15 Mar 05

Both approaches suffer from incomplete instruction. “What” is pretty clear — it’s pizza, it’s the dry cleaners, etc. “Where” might be Chicago, but using a zip code provides much more accurate results. I think the real question is why doesn’t Google offer “Where (e.g., Chicago, IL or 60605)” as a search tip?

jankowski 15 Mar 05

And in the conspiracy department, who at the Roman Delight Pizza in Poughkeepsie, NY knows someone at Google? I always assumed they broke that down by metro area with some geo-ip stuff (my work ISP goes through poughkeepsie, kinda) - but apparently everyone sees that same example no matter where they are…

Pizza is generic enough, but I mean…Poughkeepsie? I had them pegged on the third rung on the NYC/Albany/Poughkeepsie ladder.

Adam Michela 15 Mar 05

Pizza is generic enough, but I mean…Poughkeepsie? I had them pegged on the third rung on the NYC/Albany/Poughkeepsie ladder.

No question. Being in Albany myself, I’ve long been perplexed as to how in the world some hole in the wall in Poughkeepsie got listed as the default city on G-Local.


I like the 2 field approach. You would think it would be more natural to type in one field “Pizza in Albany” than breaking it apart. I mean… that’s how you talk… but it’s not. I feel more confident that I will get the result I’m looking for in the 2 field approach.

John Zeratsky 15 Mar 05

As someone who knows Google well, I’d prefer they not clutter my interface with two fields… but a lot of people are still not aware of all the things you can type into that search box. If they are really pushing local search (as it appears they are), they need to make it easy to understand for everyone.

But what about other ways of implying the two-field functionality without using two actual fields? Maybe they could use a note that says “e.g. Pizza in Poughkeepsie, NY.”

Or maybe a default value in that search box would help? In line with their brand, they could rotate a variety of interesting/funny/helpful searches through that space on each reload.

Regarding user testing… Google strikes me as the type of organization that tests, and tests a lot.

Eamon 16 Mar 05

A single field isn’t the best fit for this type of search. The two data sets, “what” and “where”, are independent, and the latter will most likely be a very limited list for the average user. Keeping the fields separated lets you make full use of things like auto-complete, drop-down lists, cookies, or anything number of accelerators on each field. However, combining “what” and “where” in a single field throws these shortcuts out the window, as the cross product of potential “whats” times “wheres” is ginormous. You could relieve this somewhat by flipping the order to “where” and “what” in a single field, but that seems pretty counter-intuitive to me.

Greg 16 Mar 05

Well they are allowing you to ‘remember this location’, so if you’re looking for places in your own town you basically have a one field search to run. And with the one search field setup you’d have to type ‘Poughkeepsie’ each time you wanted to search, not just once and have it remembered.

John Zeratsky 16 Mar 05

Excellent points.

Eamon 16 Mar 05

“Anything number”? Sigh. Hey, how about including the posting time so we can take pity on each other during late night posts like these? That would be faboo.

indi 16 Mar 05

ginormous Eamon? I hate to be a stickler, but I think you meant gigundous. ;-)

I could go for two fields as long as the “where” field remembers what I entered the last time. BTW, it has been literally years since I’ve cracked open a Yellow Pages. My first thought is to look for something on the web … Pizza, movies, Home Depot, etc.

indi 16 Mar 05

OK, so I just tried it and sure enough it remembers my location, yet gives the option of not remembering location. BTW, I love the tie-in to google maps. I also didn’t realize I had that many pizza places near by.

mmmm … pizza ….

Rimantas 16 Mar 05

So, is two field really more intuitive, or is it something we got used to (and that something is bad interfaces)? I’d say more intuitive is something what resembles natural language more closely. “Where can I get some pizza in Chicago?” vs. “Pizza. Get. I. Chicago.”

Will 16 Mar 05

It’s odd that the where field is the larger of the two. It seems like location would be smaller since the *what* could be a big complex request of a thing while the *where* is probably usually just a zipcode or a city/state combo.

Brad 16 Mar 05

I guess it’s a concession to the fact that most people have only the most basic understanding of how to use Google, and that this situation is not likely to change. I bet more than 98% of Google users don’t even know how to do a simple restrictive search with quotation marks, such as “deep dish pizza”+”05346” in the search box. This doesn’t mean people are stupid, it just means they aren’t interested in learning how to use the tool. I have this 300-page book here called Google: The Missing Manual. How many people in the world are going to read that? A few thousand at best out of the millions who use Google. And I bet only a few thousand more people ever bother to read Google’s online search tips.

I much prefer to have just one search field and to learn how to use it effectively, but if Google’s looking for more widespread use of these tools I suppose they’ll be compelled head toward a lowest common denominator approach.

Mark 16 Mar 05

“…more intuitive is something what resembles natural language more closely…”

I’d argue that outside the segment of web / computer geeks, the world at large is not ready to use “natural language” when querying a database.

Several folks here are comparing this to the yellow pages. My thought is that rather the interface is more in line with the 411 experience.

For instance, on my phone service, calling 411 gets you first a computerized voice asking “city and state please” and then dials you in to a local operator for that area to which you ask for the specific number you’re looking for “Pizza Hut on X avenue.”

Don Schenck 16 Mar 05

It’s obviously “two” much! :-)

Jason Chan 16 Mar 05

The two-field system is a simple request of users for much more accurate results. I have no problem with this. It would be nice hower, to have an “advanced” feature which expands upon the “where” field, giving you options for city, state, zip, etc.

Eamon 16 Mar 05

Brad’s example is a perfect one. Suppose I’m looking for pizza at lunch. With one field, I type ‘deep dish pizza, 60660’: 22 keystrokes. Now, later that week, I’m rocking with Linderman in NYC and mention my fantastic pizza meal. We get hungry and hit up Google on my laptop: ‘deep dish pizza, 10010’: another 22 keystrokes. A best case is still (accelerator) + (select) + (backspace 5) + ‘10010’ for a total of 12 keystrokes. Furthermore, if Matt wimps out and insists on sushi instead, that’s a whole new request: ‘sushi, 10010’ at 12 keystrokes. Any new combination of “what” and “where” results in a whole new string, even if you’re repeating a previous “what” or “where”.

Same scenario with two fields? The initial request is almost the same: ‘deep dish pizza’ + (tab) + ‘60660’ for 21 keystrokes. The second query is dramatically shortened to 8 keystrokes: (accelerator) + (select) + (tab) + ‘10010’. The third is shortened, too: ‘sushi’ + (tab) + (accelerator) + (select) is also just 8 keystrokes. If either the “what” or the “where” has been previously entered, it’s eligible for an accelerator, unlike the single-field scenario. Also, imagine if you wanted to search near a specific location like “ashland and fullerton, chicago, il”. The keystroke savings suddenly become huge.

Savings are even greater once you build a library of “whats” and “wheres”, reducing keystrokes to just (accelerator) + (select) + (tab) + (accelerator) + (select). And you could even do away with three of those keystrokes by setting the location field to your most recent request or to a “change default location” value a la Yahoo Maps.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to search for “Horse beating, Rosehill Cemetery”.

John Zeratsky 16 Mar 05

Jason: Why? Why would entering each component of a location be any more “advanced” than typing it all in one box?

If anything, a single powerful yet simple search box — the Google trademark — is more advanced. And as we’ve seen, it’s only the really advanced users that will take full advantage of it.

Joshua Kaufman 16 Mar 05

So Google is actually doing user testing?!

I favor the two field approach for the reasons that Jason mentioned. My spidey sense tells me that most people out there just don’t get putting two types of search terms in the same field.

One of several Steves 16 Mar 05

I have to admit, I find the idea that a second search box somehow “clutters” Google to be very amusing. Compare with Yahoo’s presentation and you’ll get a good idea of clutter and non-clutter (although, to Yahoo’s credit, provides a much, much cleaner interface than using the local tab on

The two-field search makes sense on several levels. You’re really searching with two discrete criteria: what and where. Two fields helps communicate that and make it easier for the vast majority of people who don’t know the flexibility of Google’s single field, nor do they want to.

A service like Google neeeds to accomodate the way the majority of people are going to make use of the tool, not the way a small subset of power users wishes to. As others have pointed out, only advanced users take advantage of the “advanced” capabilities of the single search box. Better to “disappoint” them while accomodating the way 80-90 percent of the users are going to use the tool.

John Zeratsky 16 Mar 05

I agree with Steve that Google (like any sites) needs to accommodate as much of their user base as possible. The question (which none of us are qualified to answer unless we can see test data) is whether the one-box or two-box approach is better for “the majority.”

missing the obvious... 16 Mar 05

1) Default to two fields
2) Provide (very little) button to toggle to one field
3) Remember selection.


You guys are an interesting bunch, you tear this stuff apart with excruciating detail and debate, but rarely just “get to the bottom” of it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enjoyable, and you’re all very intelligent, I just wonder how you get anything done.

By the way, if toggling to a single field insults the “advanced users,” brings up all kinds of issues like having to do it at “each” computer you use, or incites a diatribe about one’s aversion to cookies and other spyware, don’t bother.

John Zeratsky 16 Mar 05

Haha, you’re right — we’re a neurotic bunch :-)

I think the reason we never “get to the bottom” of it is that there is rarely a bottom. There are often several ways to solve the same problem.

Derek 16 Mar 05

Well, as long as both fields still accept a full query (Pizza in Poughkeepsie), or separate stuff in either one, I’m happy.

pb 16 Mar 05

If you want one field:

Will Hayworth 16 Mar 05

I myself prefer the two-field design for clarity.

By the way, as others have been saying: why on Earth did Poughkeepsie get chosen? They could at least have chosen Chappaqua (near me), where the Clintons live.

David Benton 16 Mar 05


My newsreader (sage extension for FF) can’t seem to cope with the SvN feed currently. Using both the sidebar link and the feedburner page directly I get an error: “URL not available”. Redirection issue, perhaps?

This may be a known and temporary problem, and if so there’s no need to reply to this. I thought this would be a marginally better way to let you know than a random e-mail address from the main site.

N. 16 Mar 05

In other �doubling up� news, the latest rumor on the Apple front, as noted on amongst others, is that they are developing a two-button mouse.

This is notable since it appears as though two separate companies are simultaneously doubling up on their previous standards. It seems that the philosophy behind the single-button mouse and the single query field used to be that it were simpler, where as now, it seems more like a hindrance. For the Mac, a single button mouse forced program developers to make programs more user friendly, and this was a great idea. Though I don�t own a Mac, I can only hope that they continue in the ease-of-use programming, despite the sudden (still a rumor) availability of a two button mouse.

lcreekmo 16 Mar 05

I hate the two fields. The majority may like two fields — but that’s because they’ve been taught to use bad design. Now sometimes multiple fields are 100% required. But not for a search engine. I’ve typed city, state and/or ZIP behind many Google searches in its single regular search box ever since that option became available. Works like magic. [All the pizza you want in Poughkeepsie or in Nashville….]

Let’s make it easier for people to use simple design, instead of accommodating their current need for complexity, created by nearly 10 years of dealing with the Web’s infancy.

Brad 17 Mar 05

Though I don�t own a Mac, I can only hope that they continue in the ease-of-use programming, despite the sudden (still a rumor) availability of a two button mouse.

Two-button mice have been available for the Mac since the late 1980s, just not from Apple. And the two-button approach has been integrated in OSX from the beginning, with a right-click bringing up contextual menus just like it does in Windows. If you don’t have a two-button mouse, ctrl-click does the same thing.

dusoft 17 Mar 05

Google Local is stupid. It always throws: don’t understand error. Google does not understand what Bratislava, Slovakia is? Gimme a break. It doesn’t understand what Painesville is? Gimme a break. Stupid and broken.

pb 17 Mar 05

Chill out, dusoft.

“For now, Google Local only searches for locations in the United States and Canada.>

Eamon 17 Mar 05

The majority may like four wheels — but that’s because they’ve been taught to rely on them. Now sometimes multiple wheels are 100% required. But not for locomotion. I’ve ridden around on a single wheel ever since I got a unicycle. Works like magic.

Simpler != better.

One of several Steves 17 Mar 05

Let�s make it easier for people to use simple design, instead of accommodating their current need for complexity, created by nearly 10 years of dealing with the Web�s infancy.

Let’s say, for argument sake, that a single search field is better (I don’t believe it is, at least not without seeing it tested, but let’s just say it is). If everyone is well-accustomed to that, what benefit is it to force them to change? How does that help them, just because in some abstract notion it’s better?

Interface development is about helping users maximize their use of the tool. If users are heavily habitualized to a particular interface, making them change to a “better” one is not helping them; it’s hindering them.

Take, for example, the QWERTY keyboard. Lots of arguments have been posited that it’s an inferior design (there are actually studies that purport to show that it’s not, but that’s another topic entirely), but so many people are habitualized to QWERTY that productivity would plummet if we were all forced to type on a “better” design.

In other words, when it comes to interfaces, “better” is not always better.

lcreekmo 17 Mar 05

Oh, I’m with you on not redesigning for redesign’s sake. That does not make it easy on the user. I think my problem is not necessarily with two fields — even though I’ve made that argument here — but with the assumption that just because we’re doing it that way now, and people know that way, we have to keep doing it that way.

I think the qwerty keyboard is a bit more ingrained in our collective information processing than is any particular kind of Internet or computer form, but I am willing to be proven wrong on either point.

I would say the most important thing is to think beyond the form to ask, “How do people think of information? How will they understand it? How do they get it?” and figure out how to plug into that. If the best computer translation of that is two fields in a search engine, great. I suspect, however, there are bound to be solutions far beyond the box, if you’ll pardon an overused metaphor.

embeaux 20 Mar 05

Google Local has a hidden feature where you only need to use one search box. Enter “Pizza in 60622” into the What box and leave the Where box blank. It will automatically interpret 60622 as the location.

kira 23 Mar 05

I come down on the 2-box side — the pair of boxes gives people more feedback that they’re doing it right, and a stronger sense of control over the results.

I still get background-level anxiety using the single entry box on Google maps, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. Even after lots of good results, I’ve been so conditioned by the usual Yellow Pages interface that I can’t help but think “Is this thing really going to know which word is the place?”