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Name Search Issues and How Immediate Mode Affects Results

Store Locator Plus has two basic modes that are used to render locations on a map.   The first mode is “Immediate Mode”.   This search mode is employed when a site elects to turn on the Immediately Show Locations selection.   The other mode is “Form Search Mode” which occurs when a user interacts with the locator on your site and submits a search.

Immediately Show Locations Setting
Immediately Show Locations Setting

For this discussion I will refer to a case I am working on for SottoPelle Therapy as it provides a point of reference that will help describe the issue at hand.

Name Search Inconsistency

The issue SottoPelle is having is that searching for a location by name produces different results when the map first appears than it does on subsequent searches.   This issue needs to be addressed and I will work on crafting a solution.  In the meantime I will describe how the search works today as it is a good use case to describe the inner workings of the product.

Currently the SottoPelle site uses Immediate Mode to display all of their locations when the map initially loads.  When someone searches by name only the locator will display “no results found.   If a user then types in a name and resubmits a list of locations appears.

Initial Search : Immediate Mode

The initial search on the site is set to show all locations within 2500 miles of the default map center.  The map center is not being set by the SottoPelle via the “Center Map At” setting.  As such the application will use the center of the country that is selected under the User Experience / Map / Map Settings which is “United States”.   That location that is the center of the USA, according to Google, is at 37.09024 latitude and -95.712891 longitude.

Center of USA Latitude and Longitude
Center of USA Latitude and Longitude

The search is setup to show all locations within a 2500 mile radius of that location.  This show location throughout the USA and well as some locations in Europe.    After the locations are returned Google will draw a  bounding box around all of the locations and re-center the map.

Immediate Locations Map on SottoPelle
Immediate Locations Map on SottoPelle

The new map center is somewhere in the North Atlantic at 33.96055 latitude and -58.70166 longitude which is a good ways northeast of Bermuda.

Auto-centered Gooogle Map After Search
Auto-centered Gooogle Map After Search

This sets up the initial failure with the name search as described below.

First Search via Search  Form

Now that the map is drawn the first user interaction occurs.   The user enters a name to search for, but not an address.  The way the application works it will search for all locations within Y miles of the current map center if an address is not entered.    Entering the name “Tutera” will search for all places with the name “Tutera” within 2500 miles of the North Atlantic at 33.96055 latitude and -58.70166 longitude.

That yields no results as there are no locations with the name “Tutera” within 2500 miles of the center of the Atlantic.

When a search returns no results the map will display the “No results found” message and reset to the original center location.  In this case the center of the USA which sets up the second search for better results.

Second Search via Search  Form

The second search now starts back from the center of the USA  at 37.09024 latitude and -95.712891 longitude.   With the name field remaining set you can now press Find Locations again and, depending on the name, get a match because there is a location named “Tutera” within 2500 miles of the center of the USA.

Solutions

Outside of crafting a new option in the plugin to manage the “where to center map after no results found”, other options exist in the current configuration:

– Since the radius is hidden you can ensure to find the most matches by setting the default radius to 10,000 miles.  The current SottoPelle configuration has Immediate Mode set to search 10,000 miles and Form Search to 2,500 miles.  You will likely want to set a maximum results returned in “Form Search Mode”  via “max search results” to a small number such as 10 locations.

 

– Some sites can use “append to search” and set it to something like “United States” which will cause a name search with no address input to always center in the USA.  That won’t work well for SottoPelle since they do have European addresses and users search for an address in Barcelona likely are not looking for Barcelona USA.

Adding features to the plugin such as a “do not re-center map after search” or “use this address when address on search form is blank” can be added to the product but are not on the current development schedule.  Maybe soon but the impact of these settings needs to be reviewed and tested before going to production.

 

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Enhanced Search 4 – Search Address Influence

Enhanced Search Banner

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been pushing to get some last minute features into the Store Locator Plus 4 family of products.    A new feature that was added to Enhanced Search 4 last night is the ability to influence the search results for ambiguous entries that users type into  the search address/zip code box.   A new settings allows you to keep the current “Google best guess” or “Worldwide” mode or use a new “Current Map” mode.     In current map mode Google’s default search engine for a given address is changed to give more weight to those locations that are closest the the current map area being displayed.    That means a generic address like “100 Main Street” has a better chance of showing the most popular 100 Main Street address for the area of the map currently displayed to the user.    If you are in Charleston South Carolina it is far more likely to show 100 Main Street in Summerville South Carolina than the default Google guess of 100 Main Street in Buffalo New York.

Enhanced Search 4 Search Influence Setting
Enhanced Search 4 Search Influence Setting

The following video shows this new feature in action and describes a bit more about how it works:

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Beware : GeoTag Patent Trolls Lurking

GeoTag Patent Troll Banner

Well, it finally happened.    Today I received a letter from an attorney advising me that the infamous Google Maps patent troll has finally landed in the Store Locator Plus neighborhood.   While the letter seems to indicate that the action is being taken against a company with a WordPress site that happens to use one of my plugins (among many others), I can only wonder how long it will be before the notorious “GeoTag Inc” troll comes crawling under my bridge and starts demanding ransoms from Charleston Software Associates or any of my customers.

Not that my plugins are anything special to warrant attention.   The core technology is based on the readily available sample code provide by Google for the Google Maps API.  It is public domain code that has been used in HUNDREDS of mapping themes, plugins, and even proprietary products.  It does not live in just my plugin, WordPress plugins, or even just Google related products for that matter.

GeoTag, Inc., however, feels they have a US Patent (US Patent Number 5,930,474) that means that ANY website that has a map showing locations of ANYTHING on it is using their patent and that they are due some form of compensation.   While I’m not a patent attorney, it seems as though Google and Microsoft both feel like GeoTag Inc. has an invalid patent that they are using as today’s favorite method of extortion: patent trolling.   In fact, Google and Microsoft filed for a declaratory judgement against GoeTag, Inc. a few years ago trying to get an injunction on the practice. Companies that don’t have the resources to fight the legal battles, are just a little less informed and are tricked into thinking they may have done something wrong, and others that just would rather pay up & move on to managing their business all have been caught in the patent troll trap.

Personally I despise the patent system, even though I’ve contemplated using it.  So much so that I’ve filed some provisional patents myself.  IMO the patent system is just plain broken when it comes to technology, ESPECIALLY software related technology.    I am also a very big fan of winning business and monetary rewards by doing your job better than anyone else.  Not by suing the crap out of people that are better at doing something than you are.      Patent trolls quickly move from having had some expertise in a field, such as geo-location software, to being nothing more than experts in litigation.   Just smart enough to be a pain in the ass but not smart enough to contribute to society in a meaningful and productive way.   Just enough ambition to get in the way, but not enough ambition to actually do something useful.    In other words, smart and lazy.  The worst possible combination of traits there can be.

In the case of GeoTag, Inc. it is even worse.  They created and invented NOTHING.   They are in business solely in the industry of being a “Patent Troll”.    This has become so prevalent that I’m pretty certain the US Government has a new North American Industry Classification (NAICS) just for this type of business.   GeoTag, Inc. has purchased patent portfolios for the sole purpose of “suing the crap out of people” and collecting on the patents.    They even created the fictitious name “GeoTag, Inc.” to make it “feel’ more like they actually built or created or have some other legitimate purpose related to geo-location technology.    I guess “Pa-Troll, Inc.” would not have sounded as “techie”.   Probably a good marketing move on their part.

Interestingly, GeoTag, Inc. sent out HUNDREDS of patent violation letters through their hired guns to try to raise even more cash, or more accurately the PERCEPTION of potentially more cash value in their portfolio of patents so they  could go public.   They filed with the SEC in 2010 to become a publicly traded company but then withdrew the request 18 months later in 2011.     The amazing part is that along the way they are trying to pretend they are a technology company and pretend they actually created something when their very well documented historical path shows they have done nothing but build a patent portfolio they use to employ teams of attorneys to collect revenue from companies that are actually creating value.

I think the history of the founders of GeoTag says it all.  Direct from the GeoTag Inc. website:

Chief Executive Officer, Director and Inventor John W. Veenstra … served as CEO and Chairman of Cityhub.com, Inc., a privately held patent holding company.

I guess I should not be surprised that John’s personal website attempts to inject a virus via a Mass Injection attack that can perform keylogging and website redirects.

John Veenstra Attack from Website
John Veenstra Attack from Website

In the meantime I will let things take their course, continue to develop ever improved products, and try to make for a better experience for everyone by refining, improving, and expanding the software systems that makes life easier for my clients and their customers.

References

The First Letter

McDermott Will & Emery Letter Re Frontier Comm Corp (pdf)

Foss Patents : Microsoft and Google jointly sue GeoTag, Inc.

Google and Microsoft have joined forces to take down a Texas company’s geotagging patent that they claim has been used in lawsuits against more than 300 entities, many of which are customers of the two companies. Microsoft and Google want to protect Google Maps and Bing Maps against this kind of activity.

http://www.fosspatents.com/2011/03/microsoft-and-google-jointly-sue-geotag.html

Law 360 : Microsoft Settles Map-Service Claims In Ongoing Patent Suit

Law360, New York (May 14, 2013, 7:29 PM ET) — GeoTag Inc. has agreed to drop claims that Microsoft Corp.’s Bing Maps service and other map-related products infringe the nonpracticing entity’s store-locator patent, according to a stipulation approved Tuesday that said the parties would continue litigating other claims.

http://www.law360.com/articles/441471/microsoft-settles-map-service-claims-in-ongoing-patent-suit

The Patent Examiner: GeoTag Searches for More Local Search Engines To Sue

So far, none of the company’s 20 cases has closed or gone to trial.  Attorney Joe declined to say how many licensees the company has garnered through litigation.
In March of last year, Microsoft and Google, usually fierce rivals, filed an unprecedented joint lawsuit against GeoTag, seeking to knock out the company’s patent. The complaint said that GeoTag’s suits “have placed a cloud on the Plaintiffs’ web mapping services” because many of the defendants are their customers. That lawsuit is still pending.

http://patentexaminer.org/2012/02/geotag-searches-for-more-local-search-engines-to-sue/

Microsoft and Google v. GeoTag Inc.   May 2013 Claim Construction

http://www.ded.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/opinions/rga/2013/may/11-175.pdf

BizJournals San Jose : Trolls file most patent lawsuits in 2012

LexMachina said that four of the top five patent litigants in its study only use their intellectual property for licensing and litigation. They were Arrivalstar, TQP Development, GeoTag Inc, Pragmatus AV.

Only one of the top five, Brandywine Communications Technologies, was classified as an operating company.

http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/news/2013/04/09/trolls-filed-most-patent-suits-in-2012.html

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PlugIntelligence 0.5 Released

PlugIntelligence Search Banner

PlugIntelligence had a minor patch release today (which in retrospect should have been version 0.4.1).

The new patch fixes a warning that would come up whenever a fresh install of the plugin was being used for the first time. The database options field was not initialized. This would add an entry to the server log file. The problem went away after saving the options for the first time.

What is PlugIntelligence?

This is a free plugin that works within your WordPress admin panel to restrict the results that are returned from the WordPress plugin directory when doing a plugin search.    By default every plugin that matches the keywords you enter will be returned, regardless of age or quality.

This plugin allows you to set parameters on several key metrics including:

Minimum plugin rating (0 = 0 stars, 80 = 4 stars, 100 = perfect 5-star rating).

Maximum plugin rating.

Minimum number of ratings.

Minimum tested version.  This is one of my favorites as it is a simple way to weed out older plugins that are likely no longer in active development.

PlugIntelligence Main Settings
PlugIntelligence Main Settings