Sunday, March 19, 2006

Searching for Mt. Hamilton

That past month or so in the Bay Area has been cold and wet. One of the few nice things about such weather is the snow it puts on top of many mountains in the Bay Area. I used to live near one of the big mountains out here, Mt. Diablo, in the East Bay. There was never too much snow on it in the two years I lived near it. Now I live in San Jose, and the mountains down have gotten a lot of snow this winter. It's fascinating for me to see the snow covered peaks in the distance. Snow covered mountains are quite novel to a native Floridian.

On the local news I've seen stories on people taking their kids up into the mountains to play in the snow. That sounds like something that might be fun to do one day when my kids are older. Just for kicks, I thought I might figure out how much of a drive it was up to the highest peak in the South Bay, Mt. Hamilton. There are so many great mapping tools on the web now, it should be easy to get directions to a local landmark.

Or that's what I thought. I immediately went to and searched for mt hamilton near san jose. The results are terrible. Look at the top result, Mt. Hamilton Grange. Egads. What's worse is that none of the results are even all that close (geographically) to Mt. Hamilton. They're all businesses and what not, so of course they're not up on the mountain.

So I tried Yahoo local. Its results were basically the same, still terrible. I even tried MSN, err Windows Live Local. It was just as bad. Then I realized that Mt. Hamilton is a mountain. It does not sell anything. Thus search engines don't really care about it, at least not the local variety.

Now if you just search on Google for Mt. Hamilton, you find much more relevant results. Of course you don't find directions to it, which was the whole point.

All is not lost though. Luckily I already knew about the observatory on top of Mt. Hamilton, Lick Observatory. A search for Lick Observatory near San Jose produces similarly bad results on Google Local. However, a similar search on Yahoo! produces much better results.

So alas you can find directions to non-commercially viable locations, it's just not easy. Perhaps Google Earth is better suited for something like this, I haven't tried it. The search guys need to address this. I'm sure I'm not the only person to ever search for a mountain, or a beach, or a lake with the intent of getting directions to said landmark. If a search engine is good for that, then I'm a lot more likely to use that same search engine to look for directions to a resteraunt, car dealership, etc.

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