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August 08, 2006

Scattegories

I once had a "follow me home" meeting with a Quicken user who had a very refined category list in his checkbook register. One example that stayed with me was Entertainment: Bowling: Beverages: Beer: Bud.

Ah, yes. The spending report. How much did I spend on Bud last month when I was bowling, as opposed to maybe spending on Bud when I was at the baseball game? While overkill for personal finance tracking, that level of detail gets closer to what you need when searching for a business. When picking a restaurant, I would like to know what beer they serve.

The granularity of categorization isn’t yet where users can always find the the specific business that they want. But we're working on it.

Restaurants are by far the biggest problem area. We’d like to improve it to the point that people will be able to search for specific types of food, like Asian or Moroccan. Another category search we’d like to improve is medical professionals, where users might want to search for a medical specialty like dermatology or cardiology.

That type of distinguishing data doesn’t come from our data vendor. Some data vendors have it, but not to the degree that we need or even want.

There are certain assumptions you can make when you’re trying to categorize businesses. In restaurants, if there is "Japanese" in the name, you can assume it serves Japanese food. If a business name contains the word "creamery," you can probably assume they sell ice cream. So, with that information, we can automate some of this categorization. But not all. We’ll be able to get 40% of the categorization done through the work that we’re doing now.

User contribution is the biggest trend, so obviously we’re looking for users to fill in the blanks for us. Because no one knows a business better than the business owner or his customers. Even the big name data providers look to end-users as the single source of truth on these things. So enabling user-editable categories is the next thing you'll see on Zipingo. We hope to have this user editing feature in place by the end of September.

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