Bolt browser recently started returning results for local searches from mobile local search and advertising company xAD. According to xAD the partnership will give users more relevant results and added features like reviews, offers, maps and directions. Currently live in the US only, xAD results will soon start appearing for Bolt users in Germany, U.K. and France.
I gave xAD a try with a few local search queries. Results were generally pretty good. For most queries xAD returned results that were as good or better than Google’s. For example, in a search for “Sushi 94102”, xAD (image above, left) returned more nearby results than Google (image above, left). I like that xAD shows the distance to each establishment on the results page and displays all results on a map (not shown). xAD results, at least in Bolt, were also more attractively formatted than the equivalent ones from Google.
When you do click through, xAD emphases the establishment’s description (image below, left), which is generaly writen by the business. Google relies on user reviews (image below, right) which are a click away on xAD.
One problem I had with xAD is that its search parser seems easily confused. When I tried a search for “sushi union square san francisco” xAD gave me results for Union Square hotels (image below, left). An xAD search for “iphone unlocking san francisco” returned to two locksmiths and a mobile phone shop 25 miles away named “Iphones”. Google returned locally relevant results for both queries (image below, right). xAD provides a link to retry the query with Google at the top of every results page, that comes in handy when searches go awry.
xAD is, of course, primarily an ad network. Presumably the deal gives Bitstream some additional revenue, which is a good thing for the company but also for users. Proxy based browsers like Bolt, Opera Mini and UC Browser do a great job of bringing a rich mobile Internet experience to all users, esprecially thoese on non-smartphones or slow networks. Server side compression in proxy browsers also cuts data usage by up to 90% reducing network congestion and svaing users on metered data plan money. But there’s a huge and costly server and network infrastructure behind proxy based browsers. Good revenue sources are esential to keeping Bolt online and free.