Palore: A nice browser add-on, but still a browser add-on

Palore is a simple browser tool that recognizes when you’re using a local-search site and artfully annotates your results with little informational icons.

An annotated result on Google Maps looks like this (I’ve circled the Palore icons, which wouldn’t normally appear on Google Maps):

Mousing over an icon gives you a pop-up with more info. The little doctor icon, for instance, shows health-violation data. You might also see reviews, booking links, and more.

This is extremely useful: In essence, Palore is showing Google — and everyone else — how to address some of the weaknesses of a map-dominated interface. (My somewhat outdated post on Google’s UI is here.)

Palore is supposedly in closed beta, by the way, but you can download some specialized versions (kosher, Zagat, “green”) from its home page.

I read about Palore a while ago and thought it was a great idea — which is another way of saying that it’s kinda like Loladex. Apparently it has done very well in Israel, where it started.

When I finally got around to downloading it today, however, I found that the specialized versions don’t appear to include the most important feature: The ability to pick & choose which icons get displayed, and how they get displayed — to switch off everything except the health-violation icon, say, or to put the menu icon first.

Maybe this functionality is in the non-specialized version? Certainly it’s implied by Palore’s home-page text:

  • “Use Palore to see the things you care about when looking for restaurants and other local businesses online”
  • “Choose from dozens of information-icons that will instantly appear in any search site you use”

Yup: That’s what I want! So why can’t I do it?

Assuming the “real” beta works the way I’d like, or at least that it ultimately will, here are my nominations for what else could be better about Palore — which I really do admire, by the way:

  • I’m sure Palore hears this from everyone: No one wants to download a browser add-on. It’s pretty painless, but it’s still a psychological hassle & it limits their potential audience. Airfare metasearcher Sidestep went this route for years until, in essence, it was forced to change its focus by fast-growing competitors such as Kayak. Sidestep still offers a plug-in, as well as a Google toolbar with integrated Sidestep functionality, but both options are buried in its destination Web site — as they should be. Palore is building its model on a behavior that its users will adopt only grudgingly.
  • Very much related: Palore adds information to other sites’ search results, but it doesn’t allow me to adjust the results themselves. If Palore knows that I care about vegetarian restaurants, for instance, it knows that Google Maps’ #9 result is much more relevant than the #1 result. But as the user, I’ll still need to scroll down to realize this fact. Worse, the most relevant result may be on the third (or thirtieth) page of results.
  • Both of the above complaints amount to the same thing, I guess: Palore would be better off building a destination site. The local-search space is still wide-open, and they should have the courage of their convictions. Maybe they figure they’ll get more traffic by piggybacking on established sites, but I bet they’re wrong.
  • Palore doesn’t seem to be exposing an API that would allow anyone to power an icon without their mediation; instead, you’re asked to contact them about “partnering opportunities.” No matter how streamlined their process is, it’s more limiting than do-it-yourself. Not very 2.0.
  • Palore seems overly focused on restaurants. (They address this in their blog.)
  • A minor quibble: Palore doesn’t work on Yahoo Maps, because Yahoo Maps is built in Flash. That’s a big traffic source, and could really benefit from Palore icons. But of course I’ve already recommended that they move away from this model, so I can’t complain much. And I don’t think it’s addressable, anyway.

Having said all this, I must add that I hope Palore doesn’t read this post — or, if it does, that it doesn’t take my advice. If it did, I’d have a scary competitor.