Monday, December 15, 2008

Nelso in Japanese

Still working the bugs out, but we've launched a version of Nelso in Japanese at A lot of Japanese tourists come to プラハ (Prague), so we're hopeful that it'll generate some traffic for the Nelso network.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Why we take pictures

We're often asked why Nelso sends photographers into the street to photograph businesses, rather than licensing a database of business listings from a company like Localeze, or collecting user-generated content to fill out our database of listings as Google Maps does.

Both of those strategies (licensing a database of business listings and collecting user-generated listings) are valid approaches, and Nelso will take advantage of both of these sources of business listings in the future. However, we still believe strongly in the value of collecting our own business data from staff in the field equipped with GPS-enabled cameras.
  • Many databases of business listings are updated only infrequently, and are very slow to remove closed businesses from that database.
  • Most databases of business listings have incomplete, and even worse, incorrect data.

A good recent example of data that cannot be sourced any other way than through sending out photographers is the McDonald's in the center of Bratislava, Slovakia. We photographed the door of this business, as we usually do, and recorded the hours of operation in our system.

When checking these hours against the hours on the official McDonald's of Slovakia site, we found the following:

If you click on the above image, you can see that even McDonald's official site doesn't have the correct hours for this location. It is actually quite common for us to find errors in a business' own website. Usually, a business puts up a site, and never looks at it ever again, or only infrequently. Thus, even getting business details from a business itself would not result in accurate data. Only collecting the data ourselves will allow us to provide quality data for our users.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Long Tail - Car Dealers in Iceland (California)

We recently noticed a large increase in searches on Nelso for a car dealer in California, with most of these searches coming from Danish users. The car dealer in question is Island Auto Sales in Alameda, California.

Why would Danish users be so interested in this one particular car dealer in northern California? Well, "Island" in Danish means "Iceland", and since the Icelandic economy has melted down, Danish users must think that cars are cheap in Iceland.

Another example of the very long tail searches generated by our localization into 10+ languages.

Monday, November 17, 2008

12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 1760 yards in a mile. Easy, no?

A search for cafes in Prague on

A search for cafes in Prague on

We're always looking to perfect the localization on the Nelso sites, and to that end we've made a small tweak to the way we display distances on the Nelso sites (see above). If you are using, which is aimed at U.S. users, you'll see distances displayed in feet and miles rather than meters and kilometers. This is useful because despite the spread of the metric system throughout the world, most Americans don't have a good feel for metric measures of distance.

Headed to BarCamp Copenhagen

I'm headed to BarCamp Copenhagen at the end of this week, and will be in Copenhagen on Saturday, November 22 and Sunday, November 23. I'm staying at the Adina Apartment Hotel on Amerika Plads (America Square - how appropriate). I've stayed at the Adina in Berlin, and I'm hoping the one in Copenhagen will be as nice as the one in Germany's capital.

I may or may not give a presentation at this BarCamp. I didn't present at BarCamp Berlin last month, and sorta regretted not taking that opportunity.

If you'll be in Copenhagen on these dates, leave a comment below and maybe we can meet up.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Our most popular U.S. business listing is a typo

Looking through the Google Analytics stats for our English-language site, I was surprised to find that the most visited U.S. business listing on Nelso is a small bed and breakfast in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California called Svendsgaard's Inn. I found this surprising because it is very hard to rank for hotel (or any accommodation) keywords on Google if the search is in English. These listings are dominated by large established sites like TripAdvisor,, and Expedia, and we don't put any effort into trying to rank for such competitive terms.

So I went to Google and searched using the keywords that brought people to the Nelso site for this business listing, and there we were, three of the top ten results for this little inn in northern California (Google Map).

Why would we rank for this particular place? It took me a few seconds, but I quickly realized that it was common for users to search for "Svengaard's Inn", rather than the correct spelling of "Svendsgaard's Inn", and that this same misspelling was in our database.

Now, I've heard of people doing this - putting misspellings and common typos on a web page just to attract typo traffic from Google - but we've never tried that ourselves. This little accidental experiment, however, shows that there might be something in this. I wonder how many typos are entered into Google by non-Czech speakers when searching for businesses in Prague. Probably quite a few, as the Czech language is very challenging for a non-native speaker.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Välkommen till Sverige

Although the current version is just a draft, and the translation still needs work, we have launched a version of Nelso in Swedish at Later this month (November 2008) we'll start photography for Malmö (across the bridge from Copenhagen), and then early next year we'll start photographing Stockholm in earnest.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Add Nelso business information to your TomTom GPS with one click

We've added what we hope will be a useful feature for some of our users - the ability to add the details for a business in the Nelso database to your TomTom GPS device with one click.

For example, you'll now find buttons that look like this: Add-To-TomTom on every business detail on the Nelso sites (clicking on the link above will add a 7-Eleven in Copenhagen, Denmark to your TomTom).

If you have a TomTom GPS, please try out the new feature and leave your comments on this post.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Google includes Nelso German-language data in Google Maps

We've been providing Google with data and photos for Google Maps in English and Czech for about a month, and we've now started providing them this data in German.

If you take a look at this search for Pizza Rialto in Prague, you'll see that the hours of operation are listed in German as well as, for some reason, Czech.

Now that we have links to the site on Google Maps, German tourists to Prague should find the site more easily.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Burger King in Prague?

It's been rumored for some time that Burger King would finally start opening restaurants in Prague, but a recent job posting looking for workers for a Burger King restaurant in the food court of Metropole Zlicin leads us to believe that the opening of the first Burger King in the Czech Republic will happen sooner rather than later.

I personally can't wait. I've always liked Burger King more than McDonald's, and it's about time to have another burger chain in the Czech Republic (the only other international fast food chains in Prague are KFC and Subway Sandwiches).

Update: Burger King did finally open in Prague in early December 2008. You can find more info and a map here: Burger King at Metropole Zlicin.

Coffee to Go

Starbucks LogoWhen we started adding U.S. listings to the Nelso database, we added a number of new categories to the system. Some of these have been difficult to translate into all the other languages we support, especially Slavic languages like Polish and Czech.

One category in particular has been impossible to translate into Czech: "Coffee Houses". The idea is that a "coffee house" is something different from a "cafe", in that a coffee house is more of a quick place to grab a coffee, and will often have only counter service. A cafe has waiters and a food menu, and is a place to sit for hours drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and talking with friends. The distinction is of course blurry (you could sit for hours in Starbucks writing the great American novel on your MacBook), but generally I think of a place like the Cafe Slavia in Prague as being quite different from a Caribou Coffee in Minneapolis.

Germanic languages like German (Kaffeehaus) and Danish (Kaffebar) do have good translations, but not so in Czech. So we've decided to take the easy route, and simply call these places "káva sebou" in Czech ("Coffee to go" in English). Perhaps the guys at Coffee in Town (a niche local search provider offering a guide to Prague cafes) can come up with a better translation for "coffee houses" on Nelso.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Separated by a common language

England and America are two countries separated by a common language.
--George Bernard Shaw
We've finally taken the plunge and launched a Nelso site targeted at the United Kingdom at We've owned the UK domain since the time of company's founding, but haven't activated it until now. We were prompted to do so because of the very low traffic we get from the U.K. despite the fact that Prague is a very popular place for Brits to get completely pissed in one of the city's many bars and clubs. We believe this is partially the result of Google preferring domains when doing searches from the U.K.

Speaking of "pissed" - where I come from (Minnesota), this adjective means "angry", not "drunk". Thus, we had to make a number of changes to the translation on the site, to convert it from American English to British English. "Pubs" become "public houses", "lawyers" become "solicitors", and so forth. We don't have any Brits on staff, so we'll have to run this translation by a native speaker to work out the kinks.

For more on the difference between UK and US English, you might want to check out M Lynne Murphy's blog, or try watching the UK and US versions of The Office back to back.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Testing the GPS in the Nikon Coolpix P6000. Verdict: Good enough

Nikon P6000About 24 hours ago, I finally received my Nikon Coolpix P6000, the first quality Nikon compact (i.e. "point and shoot") camera with built-in GPS. I was quite eager to test this camera, for reasons obviously related to Nelso's goal of collecting business data for most of the world's major cities. Over these 24 hours, I've used the in-camera GPS under a variety of conditions, and can report that the quality of the GPS, while not up to the standard of a high-end handheld unit like the Garmin 60CSx, is still very good, and more than satisfactory for most uses.

This is just a test of the GPS inside the camera. If you want a full review of picture quality, RAW file formats, lens focal lengths, etc. it's best to wait until a site like or do a full write-up. Currently the camera is so new (even Flickr isn't tracking the P6000 yet) that no full-length reviews are available.

I'll jump right into the accuracy testing, and then will finish up with a few general comments about the GPS hardware.

Accuracy Tests

In all of the examples below, the marker labeled "A" marks the spot where the Nikon P6000 GPS thought I was standing or driving (more on shooting from a car below), and the marker labeled "B" indicates the correct position.

Shooting from a position where you have a clear view of the sky

Below are photos I shot with the camera once I'd turned on the GPS and allowed it to get a strong signal from six satellites. Under these conditions, the error is approximately 3-10 meters (9-30 feet).

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Shooting from a moving car

I was curious to see how the Nikon P6000 would perform when shooting from inside a moving car, where the GPS would have a limited view of the sky (I was in a minivan, not a convertible), but would still be able to track a few satellites through the windows. Despite having been in the car for more than 10 minutes (and thus not having a clear view of the sky for that time), the GPS performed remarkably well. The error was between 30 and 100 meters (90-300 feet) under these conditions.

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Taking a photo after having just left a building

What happens when the camera has no view of the sky for a few minutes, and then is taken outside again? In this case, I left the camera inside for about 10 minutes, then went back outside. I let the camera get an initial track on a few satellites, but didn't give it the time it would need to track 4+ satellites and thus get a more accurate reading. This seems to me a reasonable test case, as many users will go inside a building for a while, and then come out and start shooting very soon after having a view of the sky.

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Performance was not bad (about 36 meters/110 feet off). In this case, it would have been more accurate to not have let the camera get a fix on my location at all, and have it fall back on its last recorded position (right before I entered the building on the right of the map above).

Shooting inside a building (i.e. no ability to track GPS at all)

In this case, I took a photo after having been inside a shopping mall in Prague for more than half an hour. Thus, there was no chance that the GPS in the camera could get a reading. What the camera did do was use the last valid GPS position that it had recorded before it lost satellite reception, placing me at the entrance to the mall itself. This seems to me a very satisfactory solution (more on this below).

Sam checking out Harley Motorcycles at Metropole Zlicin

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Other comments on the GPS in the Nikon P6000

It's very slow to get an initial position

When I took the camera out of the box and turned on the GPS, I actually thought the GPS in the camera might be broken. Even standing in the middle of a parking lot with a clear view of the sky, it took over 10 minutes for the camera to detect even the first satellite. While it's not unusual for a new GPS unit to take a while to get an initial fix on its position (the GPS has no idea even approximately of where it is; for all it knows, it might still be at the factory in Vietnam), an initial startup time of more than 10 minutes is excessive, and might lead other purchasers to believe as I did that the GPS is actually broken.

What's more disappointing is that the time to fix an initial position, after the camera has been off for a few hours, can still be 3-5 minutes depending on your view of the sky. I think some users will not pay enough attention to the GPS and will start shooting before the GPS has a chance to fix a position, leading to photos with no embedded GPS data.

Once you do get an initial fix on position, the camera updates its position data every 5 seconds, and this works well. If you switch to "GPS" mode on the camera (the display will then show a live update of your GPS coordinates as you move) it's clear that it tracks well. It's just that it'd be nice if, after leaving a building or turning on the unit in the morning, it wasn't necessary to stand out in a clear area for five minutes holding the camera up in the air before taking the first picture.

No "accuracy" info on the GPS display

Although the camera will show the location of satellites that it is tracking and your current coordinates on the display when in "GPS" mode, it is missing the all-important "accuracy" number. A dedicated Garmin GPS unit will not only show how many satellites it can see, but also an estimate of the accuracy of the coordinates that it is reporting. This is very useful when trying to determine if you are standing too close to a building, or under too much tree cover to get a good reading. The Nikon P6000 simply uses a three-segment display to show accuracy, and the third (best) segment seems to light up whenever accuracy is better than about 50 meters / 150 feet. This is not good enough. Hopefully a firmware update can add accuracy numbers to the GPS display, or at least add another few steps to the accuracy scale.

Writing GPS data to EXIF headers with no view of the sky

When you go inside a building, or any other area where GPS can not be used, the camera will use its last position to tag photos with location data. You can set the "time to live" of this GPS position data, which is very useful. How it works is this: you tell the camera the maximum age of the last point to use when tagging photos when it can't get a current fix on position. You can set this to anywhere from 15 seconds to two hours. Thus, if you have a "maximum validity" of one minute for GPS data, and you take a photo 30 seconds after losing contact with the satellites, you will get GPS data in the photo, but if you take a photo 90 seconds after losing contact with the satellites, you will not get GPS data in the photo.

Assuming that a user sets this to something useful like 1-2 hours, this will be a great feature for tourists. You won't be able to track yourself as you move around the Louvre in Paris, but at least all your photos from your tour of that museum will be tagged with a location at the entrance to the building. Good enough.

You can set the date and time on your camera using GPS

You can set the time and date on your camera (but not the time zone) using the built-in GPS. This seems like an obvious thing for the software to support (of course, you never know; the iPhone still doesn't support cut-and-paste), but I'm still glad they included this feature. My experience with other Nikon cameras like the D40 is that the on-board clock is quite inaccurate.

What's the GPS chipset in this thing?

None of the spec sheets that I've come across were able to tell me what GPS chipset is used inside the P6000. Knowing this would have given me a better idea of what to expect in terms of accuracy. I guess we'll have to wait until someone takes one apart to find out.


I must say that I am quite pleased with the P6000, and that the accuracy of the GPS is easily good enough to make it useful. For most consumers, even accuracy of 100-200 meters will make looking through travel photos much more enjoyable (no more "Where was this shot?"). For our use, it will also work, assuming we take a few precautions to make sure we always get the best possible accuracy from the camera.

However, if you want really accurate GPS data, especially in more demanding situations (very close to tall buildings, under extensive tree cover, inside a moving vehicle, etc.), the best route is still a camera paired with a dedicated GPS unit, either tethered directly to the camera, or recording your track to be synchronized with the photos later using an application like GPSPhotoLinker.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Generic local business videos: will these work?

Local business directory site MerchantCircle has teamed up with Spotzer to offer small businesses semi-customized video ads. These ads are displayed alongside the company's details on the MerchantCircle site. You can see an example of these ads on this listing for Jump Palace in California.

Although we like the idea of offering businesses the ability to add videos to their business listings on the Nelso sites (check out this video for the Museum of Communism in Prague), we wonder if the generic videos that MerchantCircle is providing will be effective.

Take the case of the Jump Palace ad mentioned above. The entire text of the voiceover for the ad is "Looking for something a bit more entertaining?", and then the name and address of the company is shown on a black background for the last few seconds of the ad. What exactly this company does or why I should buy from them is not mentioned, because this ad was not made specifically for Jump Palace - they simply chose from a catalog of pre-prepared ads with generic voiceovers, and then added the company name to the end of the ad.

Will these work? Do users like video so much that they'll watch a video that really has nothing much to do with the company being advertised? Probably yes. We find it hard to believe that MerchantCircle and Spotzer would bother with these kinds of videos/ads if they didn't work. Users must like them for this campaign to make sense. According to MerchantCircle, more than 2,000 businesses have put together these generic business videos, so obviously businesses like them.

We find this very encouraging. We have started to offer businesses professionally produced, custom-made videos, and for the attractive price of free. If generic ads will appeal to consumers, then our custom produced, information-packed videos should perform even better.

Via Andrew Shotland of Local SEO Guide

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pizza in Paradise

Over the last few weeks, we've added 47,361 U.S. businesses to the Nelso database. Unlike our listings for Berlin or Prague, there is no rhyme or reason to these listings; in some cities like New York we have fairly comprehensive listings, and in other cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin we have listings only for golf courses and pizzerias.

So what's the point? Why offer any listings at all if we can't offer the kind of comprehensive data that we offer in Prague?

We've added these listings as a sort of experiment. As any reader of this blog will know, the Nelso network of sites is the only local search network that offers all its listings in all the languages available on the site. So we wanted to add some U.S. listings to answer two questions:
  1. How easy is it to rank for searches for U.S. businesses in languages other than English? That is, how easy will it be to rank for the kinds of searches that a German, or Danish, or Czech tourist might do when traveling in the U.S.?
  2. If we can succeed in ranking for U.S.-travel related searches, is this a big enough market to care about? When a Danish speaker visits Chicago, does she even bother trying to search for information in Danish, or does she assume that no information will be available in her native language and start her searches in English (negating our advantage - it will be a long time before we can rank well for searches for U.S. businesses in English)?

Pizza Hut HonoluluWell, I think we have an answer to question #1 (above): it is not terribly difficult to rank well for searches for U.S. businesses in languages other than English. A recent search for "Pizza Honolulu" on brought up some rather astounding results: Nelso sites represented 6 of the first 10 results for this search (screenshot)! It'd be hard to achieve better ranking than that.

So what about question #2 (is this a big enough market)? We still don't have enough data to say conclusively if European travelers to the U.S. can justify the expense of developing comprehensive listings for U.S. cities. Our "gut feeling" is that this market is big enough. At Nelso, we define our addressable market as "All travelers that do not speak English as a first language". Seems like a pretty big market to us.

Second business video is up, for the Museum of Communism

We've completed production of our second business video, this time for the Museum of Communism in Prague. We'll be producing many more videos, but the format will be similar to this one and the one we produced for U Malého Glena.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Testing, testing, 1,2,3...

We're going to start producing a series of videos about Prague (and later Copenhagen and Berlin) restaurants. Below is a test I did to see how the lavalier microphone was working. Video quality and sound quality seem OK, especially when using the clip-on microphone.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Oh, my beautiful URLs! Ruined!

Although we are using a number of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies on the network of Nelso sites, one of the hardest to get right is "clean" or "pretty" URLs. There is some debate as to whether these kinds of URLs really help in terms of ranking on Google or Yahoo!, but in the interest of completeness we do try to keep the URLs on Nelso as "clean" as possible.

What is a clean URL? Well, it's an internet address that looks like instead of The idea is that it is easier for both humans and search engine spiders to see that the first URL is about cafes in Prague. The second URL ("places of type 10 in Prague") is more or less meaningless to both the GoogleBot and human beings.

So, what's the problem? Well, the above URL system worked fine when the site was entirely based on Prague, and worked well even when we expanded to a select number of cities in Denmark and Germany. The problem started when we decided to expand into smaller cities in both Europe and the United States. Take a look at this list of Czech cities (in Czech: "města"). Do you see what I see? Yes? The fact that the same city name is used as many as 10 times for different cities in the same country?

For example, take the case of the city of "Albrechtice". Our usual URL scheme of is not going to work in this case because "Albrechtice" is the name of nine different cities in the Czech Republic! There would be no way with the former URL scheme (e.g. to tell exactly which "Albrechtice" the user wants.

To solve this, I've been forced to add a number identifier to the URL, so that the Kladno near Prague will have an URL like and the Kladno on the other side of the country will have an URL like

Not nearly as "pretty" as the former way of doing things at Nelso, but this is the only way this is going to work as we move out of major cities and into smaller cities. The one exception will the be the U.S. - in the U.S., there are as far as I know no duplicate cities within a state, so we can still use nice URLs like when referring to U.S. towns. Even in the non-U.S. URLs, we're still stuffing the city name in the URL, so hopefully this won't hurt our search engine rankings too much.

Update your data on Nelso, or else

Picture of Hotel Olsanka, Prague, Czech RepublicA few days ago, I received a somewhat frantic email from the staff of the Hotel Olšanka. They were complaining that was ranking #1 for searches for "bazén Olšanka" ("Hotel Olsanka swimming pool").

I didn't think much of it, until I received a phone call this morning from the director of the hotel. She said that the problem is that has listed her personal mobile telephone number as the number for the swimming pool, and that her phone is ringing off the hook with people wanting info about the hours of operation of the pool.

I feel both good and bad about this little mix-up. The bad part is that we annoyed the director of one of the biggest Prague hotels. The good part is that Nelso is obviously working - people are using the site regularly to look up addresses and phone numbers for businesses in Prague.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Aloha, Nelso!

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. cities most often visited1 by European travelers are as follows:
  1. New York City
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Miami
  4. Orlando (home of DisneyWorld)
  5. San Francisco
  6. Honolulu
  7. Las Vegas
  8. Washington, DC
  9. Chicago
  10. Boston
  11. Atlanta
  12. San Diego

Nothing too surprising here - If I'd had to guess the top destinations in the U.S. for Europeans, I would have made a very similar list (well, I wouldn't have guessed Atlanta was in the top 15). I'm also not surprised that my home town of Minneapolis didn't make the list; I don't think it would appeal to a first or second-time visitor to the U.S. Too much else to see.

As I mentioned in my interview with Euro magazine2, Nelso has been looking at the United States as part of its expansion plans (especially now with the U.S. dollar at record lows), and in the process of covering businesses in the U.S, we need to construct a roll-out plan.

So, should we just take the list above and start working from #1 to #10? Or should we focus more on locals (U.S. residents), and cover the U.S. according to the population of the cities? Here's the list of the largest U.S. cities:
  1. New York City
  2. Los Angeles
  3. Chicago
  4. Houston, Texas
  5. Phoenix, Arizona
  6. Philadelphia
  7. San Antonio, Texas
  8. San Diego
  9. Dallas, Texas
  10. San Jose, California
  11. Detroit, Michigan
  12. Jacksonville, Florida

This is quite a different list. Although the usual suspects (NYC, Chicago, and LA) appear on both lists, many top tourist destinations like Orlando (#83 by population) and Boston (#23) are not even in the top 20.

I think it makes sense to use the first list (top tourist destinations for Europeans), rather than simply ranking the cities by population. This will allow Nelso to take advantage of its localization expertise (e.g. helping Czechs find businesses in "Honolulu, Havaj"). Additionally, many of the top tourist spots are warm-weather/beach destinations, which will allow us to continue primary photography even in the winter months when it'd be too cold to do much in Copenhagen or Hamburg.

Thus, the title of this post. Don't know if I can swing it, but maybe I'll take on the task of primary photography for Honolulu myself, which should take at least four weeks in, for example, January 2009. Honolulu is the #6 tourist destination for Europeans, and is the highest-ranked city in the U.S. for quality of life. That, and I really need a vacation. I haven't been to the beach in almost 15 years.

1 Data is from 2003, but I don't think the relative rankings will have changed much in the last five years.
2 The original Euro magazine interview with is here. However, it's behind a paywall, so not much use for anyone that's not a subscriber to Euro magazine.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Nikon announces Coolpix P6000 with built-in GPS

I'm surprised it took this long, but Nikon has finally announced a compact camera with built-in GPS, theCoolpix P6000. As far as I know, this is the first high-quality camera from Nikon or Canon that has built in GPS, a feature that has been available on cameraphones for at least two years.

Having cameras with built-in GPS would definitely make the data-gathering process easier for Nelso, and would allow us to ditch our current system of Nikon D40s combined with Garmin 60Csx GPS receivers. However, the question that needs answering is: how accurate will the GPS be in these cameras? We need consistent accuracy better than 8 meters (26 feet) to be usable for mapping a city like Paris where businesses are very close to each other. I'm skeptical that this new Nikon will be able to accomplish this, except under ideal conditions.

We've already got our pre-order in for a P6000 at Amazon. We'll do some tests of the accuracy and post the results here once we get our hands on one of these cameras.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Berlin will soon have nearly as many Starbucks as the whole of Australia

Starbucks has announced that it will close 61 underperforming stores in Australia. As there were only 84 Starbucks locations in Australia before the closures, Australia will be left with 23 stores total. This is approximately one Starbucks location per 1,000,000 people, which must be one of the lowest ratios in any market in which Starbucks operates.

Berlin, Germany, with 3.4 million inhabitants, has 17 Starbucks locations - five times the density per inhabitant of Australia. It is especially ironic that Starbucks would be more popular in European cities than in Australia, considering this quote from Australia's The Age newspaper:
Management expert Professor John Roberts said Starbucks clashed with a culture heavily influenced by stronger brews brought in by European immigrants.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Nelso gets its first "mainstream" media mention

Although Nelso has been mentioned on a number of high-profile websites (e.g. TechCrunch, BuzzMag,,, Gridskipper, etc.), we've never been featured in "traditional" media before today.

Euro Magazine ran a two-page article about in this week's issue (link to article), and it's very positive on the company's prospects. While it's true that a front-page story on would bring in more traffic that a write-up in a magazine, an old man like me still likes to see an article published on paper.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is it "steak house" or "steakhouse"?

Is the correct term for a restaurant that specializes in steaks "steak house" or "steakhouse"? And why do I care?

Well, I care because when dealing with search engines like Google or Yahoo!, small changes in spelling can mean a lot. A search on Google for "steak house Prague" and "steakhouse Prague" yields different results, and the same is often true even when speaking just of plural vs. singular forms of the same word (e.g. a search for "mexican restaurant prague" doesn't show any results for Nelso, while a search for "mexican restaurants prague" puts Nelso on the first page of results, at #8). This is a limitation of using computer algorithms to parse the meaning of natural language queries - no human being would think of "Do you know any good steak houses in Prague?" and "Do you know any good steakhouses in Prague?" as being different questions. These would be taken as two forms of exactly the same question.

What do the American restaurants call themselves? There seems to be no agreement on the correct wording. The legendary Ruth's Chris Steak House uses the two word form, while the equally well-known Morton's Steakhouse spells it as one word. Black Angus Steakhouse splits the difference, calling the place a "steakhouse", but using the title "Black Angus Steakhouse - Black Angus Restaurant, Steak House" on the home page in an attempt to reach more searchers.

In the end, I'll probably change our current usage of "Steak House" to "Steakhouse" just to satisfy Google. A search for "steakhouse" on Google yields 17,700,000 results, while a search for "steak house" yields 9,230,000 results. In fact, a search for "steak house" on Google offers up the suggestion "Did you mean: steakhouse?". That's all the convincing I need.

Battle of the Contextual Ad Systems

Currently, Nelso generates 100% of its revenue from Google AdSense. We're fairly happy with the results so far, but in the interest of doing our homework, from today we're going to split the ad impressions on evenly between AdSense and Centrum's AdFox. That is, half the visitors to will see ads from Google, and half will see ads from AdFox.

We'll check on the results after a month and see how they did.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Almost half of all U.S. restaurants serve hamburgers - not so in Prague

According to a recent article in Nation's Restaurant News, 44% of all American restaurants offer hamburgers on the menu. 14% of all restaurant meals are hamburgers, and 42% of those orders are for bacon cheeseburgers.

A good tour of the best burgers in the U.S. can be found in the book Hamburger America or on the author's blog about his travels tasting burgers all over America.

Despite a growing number of American restaurants in Prague, I haven't found many really great burgers here. Brewsta of the Czech Please blog wrote an article on the burgers of Prague in February 2008. I may take a tour of these places (and a few more) and see for myself where the best burger in Prague can be found.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nelso Slovakia

We still have very few listings for Slovakia, but we've launched a version of Nelso in Slovak at

We'll go down to Bratislava in August 2008 to start collecting data, initially focusing on pubs and bars, restaurants, and hotels.

It's important to note that on January 1, 2009, Slovakia will join the Euro, which should give it a small bump in tourism. By that time we'll have complete listings for a number of cities in Slovakia and will be ready for the influx of tourists.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 gives positive review to did a nice writeup of yesterday titled "Первый онлайн-поисковик по Европе на русском языке", which translates roughly as "First local search guide to Europe in Russian".

The Russian market is huge, and is one of the small number of markets in the world where the largest search engine is not Google (the largest search engine in Russia is We've been quite successful in getting our Prague listings indexed by in the Czech Republic, so hopefully this article and any links in the future will prompt Yandex to index more fully. Last time I checked, there was only one page from indexed by Yandex (for some strange reason, the page for Sports Bars in Prague).

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Major European languages now covered

With the launch today of, we now have all the major languages in Europe covered on Nelso. We have the site in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

20 most popular places on for June 2008

The twenty most popular businesses on for June 2008, in terms of page views, were as follows:
  1. Sahara Cafe
  2. Restaurace Kozička
  3. Směnárna
  4. Pivnice U Zlatého Tygra
  5. Cinema City Palác Flóra
  6. Change
  7. Olšanka Hotel
  8. Restaurace a Sportbar U Zábranských
  9. Cinema City Metropole Zličín
  10. One Love Tattoo shop
  11. John and George Café & Restaurant
  12. Bloody Blue Tattoo
  13. Poliklinika Revoluční
  14. Letňany Lagoon
  15. Darling Cabaret
  16. Restaurace & Bar & Zahradka Legenda
  17. Restaurant - Club Lisboa
  18. Tattoo Alien Studio
  19. Donjoy - Zdravotnická Prodejna
  20. Koupaliště Petynka

There are no less than three (#10, #12, and #18) Prague tattoo parlors that appear in the top 20. One often thinks of local search in terms of bars and restaurants, but only seven of the top 20 are in the "food and drink" category.

One distinct change in this list versus earlier in the year is the appearance of three Prague swimming pools on the list (I'm including the swimming pool at the Olšanka Hotel, as it's known more for its pool than its hotel). What will be the most popular winter spots?

Denmark is world's happiest country, according to World Values Survey

According to the U.S.-funded World Values Survey, Denmark is currently the happiest country on earth (Zimbabwe is the least happy country). Puerto Rico and Colombia also rank highly, along with Northern Ireland, Iceland, Switzerland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Canada and Sweden.

Of the countries in this list, Nelso listings currently cover only Denmark, although we do plan to cover Holland and Switzerland soon.

I've always been interested in providing listings for Iceland on Nelso (particularly Reykjavík), but unfortunately, neither Yahoo nor Google have street-level maps for Reykjavík. I have no idea why a country like Iceland would not be represented on Google maps; perhaps there are some legal issues to be sorted out?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The downside to using Flickr photos on the Nelso home page

I went to the home page of earlier today, and was greeted with the page you see in the screenshot below (click the image to enlarge). Yes, that is exactly who you think it is looking out the window of Prague Castle at the city of Prague below.

How did this happen? Well, it's a result of the "interestingness" algorithm of Flickr. To place random images of a place on the Nelso city home pages, I make a call to Flickr for photos tagged with that place name and then sorted by "interestingness". Usually, this works very well, and returns great photos of Prague 8, or Berlin, etc. Unfortunately, it sometimes returns photos like the one of the very bad man that made it onto the home page of

I may have to re-think my use of Flickr photos.

Monday, June 23, 2008 now sending *eight times* the traffic of

A few months ago, I wrote a post noting that the #3 Czech search engine ( was sending a lot more traffic than the #1 search engine (

Well, that situation has now completely reversed itself, and Seznam is now sending the traffic that one would expect.

Seznam's referrals to have grown so quickly that I fully expect Seznam to be the #1 search engine for referrals to by the end of August. The cause of this seems to be the simple fact that Seznam had not properly indexed until recently. Once they did index, our pages started to come up in the number #1 spot for some very generic queries (e.g. "pivo v Praze"). And it's not just the beer map that ranks well. Last time I checked, was the first or second result for searches like "supermarket praha" and " Mexické restaurace Praha".

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Top 10 sites referring traffic to for last 30 days

The top 10 sites that sent traffic to over the last 30 days are as follows:

2. *Lots of links to Nelso on TechCrunch
3. *Yeah! Corporate blogs work!
5. *My Twitter account sends a lot of traffic
7. *Not search traffic. This is traffic from iGoogle and Google Reader.
8. *Czech food blog

It's interesting to see WikiTravel as the #1 referrer - there is, as far as I know, only one link on that site to It's a link, of course, to the famous Prague Map of Beer Prices. In fact, almost all the traffic from sites #1, #6, #8, #9, and #10 above are links to the beer map (note to self - think of another cool mashup to generate traffic).

Not so good is the fact that #9 ( and #10 ( are travel blogs in Italian and Spanish, respectively. Would be great to get them to send users to Nelso Italia and Nelso España instead of sending users to the English-language version of Nelso. I'm not even sure that these blogs know that there are Italian and Spanish versions of the site.

Thursday, June 19, 2008 looks like a parked domain?

Came across a screenshot in Chris Messina's Flickr photostream of's homepage that carries the description "This looks like a parked domain... but it's not!".

Not great (that a casual visitor to might think that it's not a real site, but rather one of the spammy sites created just to collect money from Google AdSense). However, it's useful to get this kind of feedback from someone that doesn't know us.

I have to admit that the homepage is not very inviting, and we are probably losing visitors that see the homepage and immediately hit the back button. The idea was to make the homepage as clean as possible, but we've probably taken it a bit too far. Time to finally do that site redesign (OK, initial design), and add more content to the homepage.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Our first Yahoo! SearchMonkey application is live

Nelso just completed its first Yahoo! SearchMonkey application, to help enhance Yahoo! results for businesses in the Nelso European database. This application will add phone numbers, addresses, email, and business photos right into your Yahoo! search results, making it easier than ever to find the info you need.

You can install the plugin into your Yahoo account by visiting the profile page for Nelso Local Search for Europe on Yahoo!. Try it out and tell us what you think.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Mercer ranks the top cities in the world for quality of life

The 2008 Mercer Quality of living survey is out, and European cities dominate the list. At #1 is Zurich, Switzerland (was also #1 in the 2007 survey), and Geneva, Switzerland is tied for #2 with Vienna, Austria.

In fact, speaking German seems to be a good indicator of quality of life. Along with Vienna and Zurich, other primarily-German speaking cities in the top 20 include Dusseldorf, Munich, Frankfurt, Bern, and Berlin.

Prague ranks #71 for quality of life, but does considerably better when ranked on personal safety, at #45.

As for North America, the list is led by Canadian cities (Vancouver is #4), with the top U.S. city being Honolulu, Hawaii at #28.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Paid placemarkers on Google Maps France

While doing a search for hotels in Paris on Google Maps, I noticed paid advertisements on the map in the form of custom placemarkers with hotel logos. Obviously, Google is looking to produce more revenue from its very popular mapping service, but I hadn't seen this before.

A quick search for hotels in New York shows that this is common across all the Google Maps sites.

Nelso uses Google Maps for its search and business detail pages. Will these ads start showing up on our Google Maps when a user searches for a hotel in Copenhagen or Prague? The Google Maps Terms of Service certainly allow for it ("Google reserves the right to include advertising in the maps images provided to You through the Service"), so it's probably only a matter of time.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rough version of Nelso Hungary launched

We've recently launched a pre-alpha version of Nelso in Hungarian at This site contains the same data set as the other Nelso sites, but the translation could use a little work.

Here's a list of Prague restaurants in Hungarian to kick things off: Étterem Prága.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

First page of Google results for "Praha, Česká Republika"!

Despite extensive inbound links to the Nelso English-language site for Prague, it's still much easier to rank for terms in Czech. Recently I noticed that someone came to the Czech-language site after searching for the term "Praha, Česká Republika". I must admit I'm surprised to rank for such a generic search term, but Nelso is a site about Prague, so it's not completely implausible.

The Google search can be found here.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Nelso adds support for microformats

The recent release of Yahoo's SearchMonkey has prompted us to add support for microformats to the Nelso sites (e.g. hCard). Once Yahoo crawls our pages, we'll use this data to enhance the search results returned by Yahoo for local search in Europe.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yahoo! Internet Location Platform

Yahoo has launched a developer preview of its Internet Location Platform, which looks to be a sort of geocoding service on steroids.

I'll let Yahoo describe it:
Our purpose in creating the Internet Location Platform is to provide the Yahoo! Geographic Developer Community with the vocabulary and grammar to describe the world's geography in an unequivocal, permanent, and language-neutral manner.

This looks very interesting. Currently, it is possible to use the geocoding service of Google Maps, or a site such as (we use both for Nelso). However, the new Yahoo service is much more sophisticated and might be easier to use.

I'm going to play around with it a bit and post more on it later.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Multiple languages in business listings

Came across an interesting thread in the Google Maps Help Group, specifically about creating business listings for Google Maps in multiple languages. The original poster asked about having a website in multiple languages, and whether they should create multiple business listings targeting different languages. The response from Google was as follows:
We don't have any way to handle multi-language listings at this point in time, and we strongly encourage businesses to only create one listing per physical address. However, it's a great suggestion to support these types of business listings - maybe we'll be able to support this in the future.

There are two issues here:
  1. Does the site allow the business listing itself (e.g. address and contact info, etc.) in multiple languages?
  2. Does a local search site allow the listing of multiple web sites, in different languages?

At Nelso, we've got (1) covered. Simply by adding a listing in his or her native language, a business owner automatically gets listings and business details in all the languages that Nelso supports (and a lot of links - every language on Nelso has its own domain, so adding an URL to a business listing results in links from seven Nelso sites). This by itself is very useful for a business owner, especially restaurants and bars that want to reach tourists.

As for (2): this is an interesting idea (allowing businesses to link directly to the parts of their sites that are in different languages), and we might add this. Most multi-language sites have a splash page that allows the user to choose a language, but in some cases it might be useful to let a business owner explicitly link to the different languages on his or her site.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Nelso in Russian

Just realized that I forgot to post about the launch of There are a lot of Russian tourists in Prague these days, so having a complete guide to Прага in Russian should be useful.

This is the first site we've done where I can not make any sense of the text. I can read a few things, but for the most part I have to trust my translator that he got it right.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The New York Times profiles Copenhagen's restaurants

The New York Times has published an article on "The Coming of Age of Copenhagen's Nordic Cuisine". It's a well written look at a city that doesn't get a lot of respect from foodies, despite the fact that Copenhagen has an amazing 11 Michelin-starred restaurants (more than Norway and Finland combined). Prague, by comparison, has only one Michelin-starred restaurant, Allegro, in the Four Seasons Hotel.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The age of entrepreneurs

Paul Kedrosky posted today about a study examining the average age of start-up founders. This study specifically looked at companies with over $1m in revenue and at least 20 employees (i.e. real companies).
People founding tech companies over the last ten years had an average and median age of 39-years, nowhere near the age that makes for good stories about dorm room entrepreneurs -- and older than many of us might have thought.

Good to hear that even at the advanced age of 37, I'm not too old to start, and that I still might have a chance at success.

House-level geocoding for Google Maps

Google announced on the Google Maps blog that that have introduced "rooftop" geocoding for U.S. addresses. What this means is that you can get GPS coordinates at the house level, and not just a spot in the middle of the street in front of an address. Thus, you can tell if an address is on the left or right side of a street, for example.

Would be good to see this for European addresses as well. This data is certainly available - Atlas Maps can provide rooftop geocoding for addresses in Prague, and similar data must be available for other cities in Europe.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Starbucks looking overseas for profit growth

According to an article from the Associated Press, Starbucks is betting heavily on international expansion to fuel profit growth over the next three years. Despite scaling back their expansion plans for new U.S. locations, they are expected to open a whopping 975 new locations internationally in 2008, and 1,300 (!) new locations in 2011.

As everyone in Prague knows by now, Starbucks has come to the Czech Republic, opening its first store on Malostranské náměstí in Prague 1 in late January 2008. They have built a number of other stores in Prague since then, including one at the Prague airport. Considering the high price of coffee at Starbucks, I wonder how many they plan to build here over the next three years. Are Czechs so enamored of $6.00 coffee that there'll soon be one here on every block? Seems unlikely, but then I've been surprised at how many restaurants McDonald's has managed to build in Prague in the last 10 years.

Monday, April 28, 2008

TechCrunch / CrunchGear meetup in Prague, May 23, 2008

Nelso will be co-sponsoring (along with GoodData and Newstin) a TechCrunch/CrunchGear meetup in Prague on May 23, 2008. The event will be held at Restaurace Zvonařka in Prague 2.

You can read more about the event in this post on TechCrunch, and you can sign up through Facebook.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Nelso founder interviewed in Czech on

In what is definitely a first for me, I was interviewed (in Czech) for the podcast. You can see the video here: TechCrunch Central European Meet-up v Praze.

We talked about Nelso, the TechCrunch/CrunchGear Prague meet-up on May 23, 2008, and the Twitter contest we are running this Saturday night. It's all in Czech, of course, so if you don't speak that language it won't be quite as interesting.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A single London listing

We added a friend of ours, Kate Lye, to the Nelso database. We realized when adding this record that we didn't have a convention for country code for the United Kingdom. The ISO code for the United Kingdom is actually "GB", not "UK" as some would expect.

The problem is this: we put the country code in the URL for a business listing (i.e. for Kolkovna in Vítězná). Do we want the URL to read or Does it matter to the GoogleBot?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Twitter Contest - Win an iPod Touch

I've had a brand-new iPod Touch on my desk for about a month. I've always meant to run some sort of contest on Nelso, but couldn't decide what to do. I thought about running a contest to encourage users to add tags to businesses, a contest to add new places to the database, etc., but those all seemed like a lot to ask just to enter a contest.

I recently wrote a Twitter bot for Nelso, to help users look up business info in Europe. So the contest I decided on is to use this bot to try and crowdsource some data about what bars and restaurants are popular in Prague.

Rather than explain the contest here, I'll just point my readers to the contest page on On Saturday, April 26, 2008, check in with Nelso on Twitter and win an iPod Touch!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nelso in Spanish

Just launched a version of Nelso in Spanish at Translation still needs some work, but want to get it out there so Google can start the indexing process.

At this point, the only major European language that we are missing is French. But I have to admit we're even more interested in Asian languages like Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.

Trying out AdBrite

On our English-language Europe local search pages we've switched to AdBrite for text ads. We'll leave these up for a little while to test how they do in comparison to the Google AdSense ads we've been running for the past few months.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New York Times calls Munich "Germany's Hot Spot of the Moment"

Speaking of Munich (see our last post), The New York Times has proclaimed Munich "Germany's Hot Spot of the Moment".

The article specifically mentions Saf im Zerwirk, a vegan restaurant that is getting very positive reviews. Based on the reviews, even a die-hard steak man like myself might give this place a try.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Women from Dominican Republic confuse Munich with Monaco

According to an article on Deutsche Welle, two women from the Dominican Republic drove from Italy to Munich to pick up their niece who was actually on the Paris-Monaco train.

How did this happen? Well, in Italian, the name Monaco is used for two cities: the famous playground of the rich and famous on the French Riviera, and the German city of Munich. For this reason, the city of Munich is often referred to in Italian as "Monaco di Baviera" (literally "The Monaco in Bavaria").

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Skagen, Denmark added to Nelso

We have just completed adding listings for Skagen, Denmark to our database. Many of you might not have a clue where Skagen is, so here are a few stats:

Skagen is one of the more popular holiday destinations for Scandinavians (and Danes in particular). This little fishing village is situated in the far north of Denmark (map), where The North Sea and Kattegat meet, and is a very popular place for sailors. During the summer season the small harbor is crowded with sailboats from all over the region. When you are not on the water, the village offers a large variety of excellent seafood restaurants and other nightlife.

If you are considering a trip to Skagen please make sure that you book well in advance since the hotels and vacation homes get booked very quickly.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

24 hours to rank #1 when searching for cafes in Berlin

This is a new record for us. It took only 24 hours to rank #1 when searching for cafes in Berlin (see search results on Google).

But perhaps this was too easy, optimizing for a search term in Czech. Let's try another one: ristoranti berlino. It should be considerably more difficult to rank for an Italian-language search for restaurants in Berlin. We'll check back in a few weeks and see how we've done.

Update: Right after I posted this, we not only lost our top spot for this query, but all our Berlin listings seem to have been removed from Google's index. No idea why.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Listings for Germany

We have been trying out adding listings for Germany (especially Berlin) to the site. Germany is of course well-covered by English and German-language sites, but the competition in other languages like Czech (Berlín) or Italian (Berlino) looks pretty slim.

I'll be watching my Google search traffic to see when we start to come up for searches like "Kavárny Berlín". Based on our experience with Copenhagen searches in Czech, it shouldn't take long.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Allegro restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel awarded Michelin star

According to, the Allegro Restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Prague has been awarded a Michelin star. This is the first restaurant in the Czech Republic to be accorded this honor.

I haven't eaten there, so I can't comment on the food, but I think that many people in Prague expected Gordon Ramsay's new Maze restaurant in the Prague Old Town Hilton would be the first restaurant in CR to get a prestigious Michelin star. Now he'll need to get one just to tie for first.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Nelso in Polish launched

We've just launched a version of the Nelso site in Polish at This brings the total languages for Nelso to six (English, Czech, German, Danish, Italian, and Polish).

Next up - French and Spanish. We're also hoping to roll out a version in Japanese by the end of next month (April 2008).