Thursday, March 31, 2011

Anarchy in the U.K.

Well, not anarchy exactly, more of a small hiccup (but then "Small Hiccup in the U.K." wouldn't have made a very good post title).

Earlier today, we started our first real efforts at collecting data for Nelso in the UK, starting with Cambridge, England. Using the Nelso iPhone data collection app, the operator in Cambridge noticed right away the incomplete addresses being returned by the Google Maps geocoder. Specifically postcodes, which were being returned in the strange format "CB4 1" instead of the expected six alphanumerics of a full UK postcode1 (e.g. "CB4 1AJ").

We'd never had this problem in other countries, and for a few minutes I was stumped. However, a quick look through the Google documentation for the geocoder reveals that in the UK (and similarly in Japan and China) the postcode database is copyrighted by the Royal Mail2, and one needs a license to do postcode lookups based on latitude/longitude.

Seems we'll have to pay for a license at some point (although not right away - who sends letters anymore?).

1 Although the only "real" address with three letters at the beginning (rather than 2 letters and a number) is Girobank's "GIR 0AA", Santa Claus does have the UK postcode "SAN TA1", which starts with three letters.
2 Why does the Royal Mail use rather than

Monday, March 28, 2011

Apple building a new mapping application?

Many sites are writing today about a new job posting on

From Apple's site:
The Maps team is looking for an exceptional developer to join us in our mission to radically improve how people interact with maps and location-based services.
This is obviously interesting news for a local search site that also produces iOS apps. That said, I have no idea what this means. Apple bought a company called Placebase in 2009, and at the time many expected that Apple would use their technology to replace or supplement Google Maps in iOS. That hasn't happened, but it might just be that Apple needs time to integrate Placebase's technology.

Placebase does have an API called Pushpin that would allow for much more sophisticated manipulation of geospatial data in iOS.

My biggest feature request would be an easy way to use offline maps both in the Maps app and in iOS apps produced by Nelso. Although there are apps in the App Store that support offline maps, it'd be a boon for travelers to have this built right into the OS. The requirement that a user has an internet connection makes Google Maps almost worthless for travelers in Europe, as the cost of data roaming is too high to justify using maps on an iPhone or iPad outside one's home country.

Here's hoping they say something at WWDC this year.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The iPad 2 camera is practically worthless

Once I got my hands on an iPad 2 (the white 64GB 3G model, to be exact) the first thing I did was to take a few photos with the rear ("HD") camera.

I've written a lot about the iPad 2 camera in the last few weeks, and although I feared the worst, I still held out hope that the camera would at least be serviceable. But after playing around a bit with the iPad 2 camera, all I can say is this: Apple did the absolute minimum they could and still claim the iPad 2 has an "HD" camera.

Below are two shots, taken in the same place (approximately), one with the iPad 2 and one with the iPhone 4. You get exactly one guess as to which one is the iPhone 4.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why don't the Nelso sites appear in the Blekko index?

Techmeme linked to an article about upstart search engine Blekko today, which prompted me to take another look at the site.

Like any good entrepreneur, I immediately did a vanity search to see how the Nelso sites ranked for common search terms like "Prague bars" or "Copenhagen hotels". I didn't expect to see at the top of the first page, but I was surprised to find that Blekko doesn't index any content from any of the Nelso sites.

From the article linked above:
We have a full Web crawl. Come to Blekko, type /date and you can see the sites going in in real time. Our whole crawl is about 3 billion pages. It's not as big as Google or Bing's index, but we biased it to what we think are the best pages.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Although we've had the Norwegian translation ready for over a year, it's taken us at least that long to acquire the domain name.

Now that we've launched in Norway, we just need a site for Iceland and, depending on how you define Scandinavia, Finland to complete our coverage of the region.

According to Wikipedia:
When a speaker wants to explicitly include Finland alongside Scandinavia-proper, the geographic terms Fenno-Scandinavia or Fennoscandia are sometimes used in English.
I admit to never having heard those terms before.

Early stats for the site show most of the traffic so far is to the Denmark and Czech Republic listings.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

iPad 2 camera tests

CNET has posted a gallery of photos taken with the iPad 2 rear-facing camera in downtown San Francisco. Not very impressive, but I was surprised that the image sensor was fast enough to get this shot of a skateboarder in mid-air.

PCWorld ran more comprehensive tests, and also tested the iPad 2 alongside the Motorola XOOM and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. You don't need a trained eye to tell that these two Android tablets beat the pants off the 0.7 megapixel rear camera in the iPad 2.

There's no getting around the fact the the back camera in the iPad 2 is sub-standard for 2011. Even the mediocre 2 megapixel shooter from the original iPhone, which is now four years old, would have been better than what Apple put in the iPad 2.

What I haven't seen yet, and what is more important for Nelso's data collection efforts, is a shot taken with the back camera outside in bright sunlight. I'll test that as soon as I get my hands on an iPad 2 later this month.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Data collection starts in Rome

We've got two people at the moment collecting data for Nelso in Rome, Italy. You can follow their progress by checking the home page for Rome on

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Well, at least one company is excited about the new iPad cameras

TechCrunch writes today that DailyBooth raised additional financing, and that they are "excited" about the front-facing camera in the iPad 2.

From the post:
Devices like the iPhone 4, with a front facing camera, are particularly DailyBooth-friendly. The new iPad, also with a front facing camera, is just an enthralling to the company.

Gruber confirms that iPad 2 rear camera is 960x720?

John Gruber of Daring Fireball linked to a photo he took with the iPad 2 while at the event. If we take at the look at the original size of the photo he took, it's 960x720, just as one would expect. While it's possible that Gruber resized the photo before uploading it, that seems unlikely given that he had only a few minutes with the device and I can't see him wasting time with that.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

iPad 2 Camera A World's First?

Although the details of the iPad 2's rear camera are still vague, Apple might have created the first digital camera in history that has a higher-resolution LCD display than the camera's sensor!

All we know so far is this tidbit from Apple's site:
Back camera: Video recording, HD (720p) up to 30 frames per second with audio; still camera with 5x digital zoom
We can infer from this that the rear camera sensor is capable of at least 1280x720 pixel resolution. However, it's reasonable to assume that still photos will be cropped to 960x720 (like the current generation iPod Touch) to make them the ratio common for digital photos (4:3).

If that's true, then the iPad will have a higher resolution LCD display (1024x768) than the photos it takes (960x720). This is almost certainly a first. Camera sensors have always had a much higher pixel density than LCD displays. The iPhone 4's display might be impressive at more than 300 pixels per inch, but even the first consumer digital camera sensors had much higher pixel density than 300dpi.

Thus, an early DSLR like the Nikon D1 had a 2.7 megapixel (2,000×1,312) sensor but a puny 120,000 dot (400x300) rear LCD. The very first digital camera marketed to consumers in the US, the Apple QuickTake 100, didn't even have an LCD display because small LCDs at the time were prohibitively expensive.

Are the photos taken with the iPad 2 going to display with black bars at the top, bottom, and sides? Normally one needs to dramatically downscale digital photos to display them on the LCD of the device that took the photo (I can't even display full-resolution photos from my iPhone 4 using my 27" Apple Cinema Display).

Apple are certainly pioneers in digital photography, but in this case that's not a positive thing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Update of Russian localization

We're undertaking a comprehensive review of the translations on, and adding thousands of new translations for categories that have been added recently. You can see some of the improvements by browsing our Prague listings in Russian (most of our Russian-language traffic is for Prague).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Luxury brands and local search

Take a look at the top 15 search terms on Google sending traffic to for the month of February, 2011. Notice a pattern?
  1. louis vuitton praha
    Luxury luggage and other leather goods
  2. iworld praha
    Mac, iPhone, and iPad dealer, i.e. luxury computers
  3. burberry praha
    Luxury clothing
  4. swarovski praha
    Jewelry and crystal
  5. hlavní nádraží praha
    Prague main train station
  6. big sister
    Famous Prague brothel
  7. gucci praha
    World famous luxury brand
  8. h&m praha
  9. pekařství paul
    Luxury bakery
  10. frey wille bratislava
    Luxury watches and jewelry
  11. fendi praha
    World famous luxury brand
  12. hapu bar
    Cocktail bar
  13. prada praha
    Luxury women's clothing
  14. sushi palladium
  15. jazz praha
    I'm assuming this is a search for live jazz in Prague, rather than a search for stores selling jazz music
There are quite a number of luxury goods related searches in this list. I don't have a good explanation for this, other than the fact that many of these brands have Flash-heavy sites that probably aren't indexed well by search engines.