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September 22, 2004 12:45 AM

Broken: search

realtorJesus Encinar writes from Madrid:

I tried doing a search at I typed in "new york city", and this is what I got:

    Unable to Find Location
    We are unable to find new york city in New York.
    Please check the spelling or enter a different city. is the "official site of the National Association of Realtors." They should fix this.


New York City is not the name of the city New York, New York. While it is common to refer to New York, NY as New York City, that isn't its name.

Strictly speaking, if New York City, NY is taken to mean New York, NY, then Seattle City, WA would have to map to Seattle, WA.

There is no "New York City" in New York state, there is only New York, NY.

Posted by: somebody at September 22, 2004 01:17 AM

somebody, while all that is true, users make all kinds of basic form entry mistakes and this is the least of them. For a database as large as theirs to be unable to accommodate well-known synonyms is inexcusably lame.

Posted by: Carina at September 22, 2004 02:39 AM

Maybe it needs to be uppercase? Still broken though.

Posted by: Ilan at September 22, 2004 12:54 PM

Only thing broken about that is it not giving something along the lines of "New York City, New York not found. Did you mean New York, NY?". If it had found it THEN it would be broken.

Posted by: Peregrine at September 22, 2004 02:31 PM

somebody> Actually, I believe the official name is "The City Of New York". But come on, even says "Welcome to the official New York City Web site" at the top (with "The City Of New York" used for the copyright at the bottom) . This is a poorly working database at best - it at least needs to be smart enough to suggest NYC.

Meanwhile, something broken right here on this site is that the comments form requires a name and email address (what the heck is an email address needed for), and if you don't give them, the form yells at you (fine) and erases all your input except for the comment itself (not fine). And now I see that the same thing occurs if you include HTML, but the Preview allows for HTML just fine.

Posted by: Paul at September 22, 2004 03:50 PM

Come on now. I live in New York City. And I've never entered New York City in an address field when it asks for city. Everybody knows that it is New York, NY. *sigh*

Posted by: John at September 22, 2004 07:11 PM


Posted by: JIM at September 22, 2004 08:07 PM

So, we're all saying the USER is broken because the site can't figure out that "New York City" in New York state might mean New York, NY? Excuse me? I think the userbase of "This Is Broken" has now officially become too hip. Yeah, it's cool to criticize stuff here because we can be more pedantic than the last guy. But THIS is BROKEN. this is a REAL ESTATE SALES WEB SITE. It is their JOB to grasp cities and locations. My god, people living in caves in the mud-country of Elbonia know where the hell New York City is located.

Posted by: Grey Hodge at September 22, 2004 08:38 PM

Finally! Thanks, Grey.

Posted by: Mark Hurst at September 22, 2004 09:22 PM

So we should build a database that has every possible spelling (why stop there? how about incorrectly spelled names?) for every city, state, county, and parish in all of the USA?

There can't be more than, say, 100 different cities, right?

No database can be perfect or error-proof. Unless you want to build a Google-style search-and-recall system (no doubt expensive to license now, and building your own isn't easy), errors and holes are unavoidable.

Not broken. What happened to the entries of old on this site, what with the "Exit/No Exit" signs pointing to walls... now we just have people complaining that EVERY possible problem that might (might!) occur hasn't been thought of.

Should "New Yawk" also turn up NYC?

How about "The site of the 9/11 attacks"?

Or "The Big Apple"?

Or "The Big Alppe"?

You'd need 500 pages of enties for Albequrque, NM. Or is it Albehquekey...?

Posted by: Jim King at September 23, 2004 12:13 AM

I'm not talking perfect. But my god, what kind of idiot programmer can's forsee some simple alternatives? "City" will probably be a common match at a real estate site, so if we don't get a hit for XYZ City, drop city and search again. Or even better, drop it from the get-go on searches. Google won't search for "a", "it", "the", etc. by default. And the fact this won't even return partial matches is pathetic. "New Yawk" is spelled wrong, "New York City" isn't. "Albekerkee" is spelled wrong, "Albuquerque" isn't. But in both cases, there's enough there for some partial matching. The program that's doing the searching is broken, or the programmer is. Either way, it's broken.

Posted by: Grey Hodge at September 23, 2004 01:08 AM

I have often used other seach engines where if you type "New York" it will automatically show results for New York State. Or others where you may get multiple results for cities with the same name in multiple states ("Springfield"). That's why whenever I do a query I try to be as specific as possible.

First thing I saw when I entered the site was the box for "City" so, trying to be as specific as possible, I typed "new york city".

It was only *after* I had typed "new york city" that I saw I could make a specific search for a city within a state but I guessed the engine should be able to find "new york city".

The mistake appears whether you search in uppercase or lowercase, by the way.

I submitted the mistake because I thought the explanation "We are unable to find new york city in New York. Please check the spelling or enter a different city" Is a classy example of what happens when you believe the user has made a mistake: you are the one who looks stupid. A better text would have been something along the lines of "We are unable to find 'new york city' in New York. Please try an alternative spelling or a different city"

Jesus Encinar

Madrid, Spain

Posted by: Jesus Encinar at September 23, 2004 04:23 AM

>So we should build a database that has every possible spelling (why stop there? how about incorrectly spelled names?) for every city, state, county, and parish in all of the USA?

Oh, for pity's sake. Yeah, that's exactly what we've got in mind. Geez.

Assuming you're not actually in New York, NY, ask a few people today where Saturday Night Live or the Letterman show are shot. I'd be willing to bet $100 cash money that the majority of them answer "New York City". That's common usage, incorrect though it may be. So a real estate search that can't figure out that "New York City, NY" probably means New York, NY, is broken.

Posted by: Chaz Larson at September 23, 2004 09:48 AM

>So we should build a database that has every

> possible spelling (why stop there? how

> about incorrectly spelled names?) for every

> city, state, county, and parish in all of

> the USA?

actually I don't think that's a bad idea. Were this my site that's what my goal would be. it's irrelvant whether it's technically right or wrong - what's important is that people are going to enter mispellings and synonyms for cities, so the site may as well accomodate them if it can. in this particualr case, it wouldn't even be a vast effort. this nut has been cracked before.

Posted by: nick altebrando at September 23, 2004 10:03 AM

It's not hard to do this...many sites will correctly find "New York, NY" if you enter "New York City" or "New York City, NY". For example, try entering either one into the "search for a place" box here:

It looks like this is a special case...if you enter "Seattle City" it doesn't automatically find Seattle.

Posted by: Jay at September 23, 2004 10:24 AM

I'm a "stupid programmer" (sic) who also worries about customer experience. On the site I manage, yes, we do try and cope with abbreviations and other weird spelling, but it's not easy.

I'm currently in the process of implementing a third party address verification and stadardization. However that's 7 cents a pop. If you do it for all users, you may kill your margins, so we'll only gonna do it for limited cases. If you try to implement it yourself, you'll need to keep maintaining and weird cases come up all the time.

I think the solution is: better designed forms and better error messages.

Let me advocate the tech case here. We can't do magic. We have to provide a generic solution. It's easy to say "take 'city' out of the city name, stupid", but for example I'm counting 11 cities in the state of NY alone with 'city' in the actual official city name (City Island, Co-Op City, Garden City, Johnson City, Long Island City, Model City, New City, Pine City, Radio City, Rock City Falls). I quickly counted 465 cities whose official name *ends* in city, across 1553 zip codes in my database.

So what do you do? I agree with the poster above. A well designed form coupled with a simple error message like "City 'New York City' not found in state 'NY', please check or try an alternate spelling or different city." would go a long ways.

But please try and think of the *generic* case. Even in the message above, what if the state is what's wrong, as in a typo? (And please don't tell me it can't be a typo because it was a drop down -- especially for state inputs or credit card expirations it is a *mistake* to use drop downs) If they typed "New York City" and "NU" what do you say?

Posted by: Ronnie at September 23, 2004 10:44 AM

>So we should build a database that has every

> possible spelling (why stop there? how

> about incorrectly spelled names?) for every

> city, state, county, and parish in all of

> the USA?

I just went to and did a search for "nwe yrok city" ... This is the first part of what came back:

IMDb name and title search

A search for "nwe yrok city" found the following results:

Approximate Matches (20 matches, by relevance/popularity)

1. In Memoriam: New York City (2002) (TV)

2. Concert for New York City, The (2001) (TV)

3. New York City... Come Visit the World (1998)

4. What Happened on Twenty-third Street, New York City (1901)

5. New York City Dumping Wharf (1903)

... etc.

If a *movie* database can be made smart enough to figure out what I might be talking about when I misspell the name, then surely a real estate database can be.

The real estate site is broken. Data searches are supposed to facilitate the retrieval of information, not turn every query into a Trivial Pursuit-style guessing game.

Posted by: E.T. at September 23, 2004 10:47 AM

Also note that the official government website here is

Posted by: Mark Hurst at September 23, 2004 10:48 AM

Er... E.T., maybe you should notice that IMDB did not figure out what you were talking about.

It only saw a string that found no matches and used some system to try and find the approximate matches.

You can tell because every match says "New York City", not one says "New York" (without the "City").

If you type, "Nwe Yrok", here's what you get:

1. You're Invited to Mary-Kate & Ashley's New York Ballet Party (1997) (V)

2. Trapalhão na Arca de Noé, O (1983)

3. Gangs of New York (2002)

4. Maid in Manhattan (2002)

aka "Made in New York"

5. New York Minute (2004)

6. Coming to America (1988)

aka "Prince in New York"

7. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)


Note number 2, which is actually a Brazilian movie with a title in Portuguese because the sound "Nwe" matched the sound for "Noé" (sounds like [know-at]) (funnily enough, I am Brazilian and speak Portuguese).

For "New York", you get:

Exact Matches (3 matches, by popularity)

1. Hallelujah I'm a Bum (1933)

aka "New York"

aka "The Heart of New York"

2. New York (1916)

3. New York (1927)

Partial Matches (17 matches, by popularity)

1. Gangs of New York (2002)

So you see, it's not that smart...

Interestingly, even Google doesn't handle it: search for "New York" you get "Map of New York NY" on top. Search for "New York City", you don't, it did not recognize it as a city name.

Posted by: Ronnie at September 23, 2004 11:22 AM

This is truly a silly argument. The results are, ahem, broken, because they offer no alternatives and no recommendations.

I just went to Century 21. I typed in 'New York City'. Here are the results I got:

We don't recognize the information you entered. Did you mean to enter one of the following options?

New Hampshire [NH]

New Jersey [NJ]

New Mexico [NM]

New York [NY]

The site provided an alternative. Pretty simple.

So, to those who claim this is technically impossible or too difficult, get over it. It is possible.


Posted by: Michael McWatters at September 23, 2004 11:58 AM

Ronnie, your point is well taken. I was speaking colloquially when I said that "figured out" what I meant. You are precisely right that it found no exact matches and then presented me with some likely alternatives.

Apparently, this is what the Century 21 site does, too -- and it is exactly what should do.

Posted by: E.T. at September 23, 2004 02:12 PM


I'm a programmer, and I understand a little about databases. When searching does not providing any matches in this case, you resort to a less specific search. You don't exactly just remove "City", but allow the search to provide something to the effect of

"New" or "York" or "City", and return the results that provided the most matches of the searched for words.

I agree that it is broken. Those that don't agree are probably lazy in there jobs just like the makers of the search engine of this realtor website.

Posted by: Jason at September 23, 2004 08:27 PM

Let's try the obvious...a city name is a proper noun and should be capitalized. Even the average fourth grader realizes that. Or should should all web sites now bend towards mediocrity and the further "dumbing down" of the public rather than the public exercising a minimum level of intelligence and common sense?

Posted by: Liz at September 24, 2004 06:01 AM

_@_v - for the record i typed "New York City" and they still got bupkiss.

_@_v - so it's TOO much to ask that they figure that at least New York City is gonna be entered with the 'City' in that name?

_@_v - i wonder how confused they'd be if i typed in 'Jersey City'...

Posted by: she-snailie_@_v at September 24, 2004 09:34 PM

i was born and raised in new york ****ing city

'nuff said

thank you; i feel better now

Posted by: laurie kalmanson at September 24, 2004 10:45 PM

oh ... for the record ... here's what said ... i think they know something about standard english usage:

New York City

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition

Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

n : the largest city in New York State and in the United States; located in southeastern New York at the mouth of the Hudson river; a major financial and cultural center [syn: New York, New York City, Greater New York]

... which i think takes care of that

Posted by: laurie kalmanson at September 24, 2004 10:53 PM


"Or should should all web sites now bend towards mediocrity and the further "dumbing down" of the public..."

Web sites should serve their audiences. Even a very smart person might type "New York City" instead of "New York." It has nothing to do with "dumbing down" or "mediocrity."

In fact, I'd argue that if those words apply at all in this case, they should be applied to the algorithm powering's search engine, not the users who type in the common term for the largest city in the United States.

Posted by: Michael McWatters at September 25, 2004 12:12 PM

Come on. I'm guessing we're all adults here, and in being such, I'd like to think we can carry on some reasonably intelligent discourse and debate without resorting to "idiot", "lame" and "stupid" and other name-calling.

For my part: An effective search engine should allow for some unofficial ubiquities, even if technically incorrect. Even the two terms "New" and "York" should've brought up a 'closest match' scenario.

Posted by: Tonya at September 26, 2004 11:12 PM

This page is broken.

Posted by: Folks at September 29, 2004 05:25 PM

This is just my own feeling, but I don't think anyone in England calls it New York City. It's just New York. If you've been somewhere else in NY, you'd say New York State. But that's irrelevant. This is Broken.

Now, as an encore, I should to suggest you find me a plumber from I live in Cambridge. Did you mean Cambridge, Cambridgeshire or Cambridge, Gloucester?

Cambridge in Cambrideshire is an internationally renowned seat of learning, blah blah. Cambridge in Gloucester is not. Take a guess, website. And for the 43ish people who live in Cambrige, Gloucester (a) they'll probably know there's not a plumber in Cambridge and will try to find a plumber in the nearest town (i.e. Gloucester) or (b) would learn to type Cambrige, Glos into the website to find out who to call when they their pipes burst.

Just to be even more broken, if you click on Camrbidge, Gloucester the first result is in Peterborough, which is perhaps 30 miles from Cambridge and about 250 miles from Gloucester. I think here we have either a broken engine or a canny plumber.


Posted by: Simon Trew at October 2, 2004 12:19 PM

My spelling is broken.

Posted by: Simon Trew at October 2, 2004 12:21 PM

The correct answer is to instrument your search and try and deal with recurring problems. As many have pointed out, the ultimate goal is to help the user accomplish their task, not decide whether their phrasing is "correct." If this was the first ever search for New York City (which I doubt), the failure could be forgiven. It would be interesting to know the "Family Feud" answers for "largest city in the state of New York" (Survey says....New York City! - Richard Dawson. Apologies for the pop culture reference in a serious discussion. )

Posted by: Mike Duffy at October 2, 2004 11:19 PM

The question is not what the city is really called. Why are people stuck on that? OK, let's just say it is officially New York. The problem is how functional the search engine is. By the way, somebody look at

Posted by: Jason at October 10, 2004 05:16 PM

ok, im going to go back to what ronnie said here real quick, Pine City is truly this cities name, and i can type in pine or pine city and get it, now, i can type in new york and get new york, but not new york city... IT DOES allow for spelling errors, i typed in nwe yrk and below it gave me close matches and guess what? one of them was new york... you're problem here is that by default, city is already included in the search because duh the box is labled "City" so if you were doing New York City, its almost like doing The City of New york City, which is completely stupid, now, Pine City, while ending up with the same thing, is correct because it is Legally Called Pine City, so i am looking for the City of Pine City, which is completely acceptable. Not broken.

Posted by: Dragon at December 22, 2004 06:29 PM

They should really fix this. is to big to have this broken...

Posted by: tyler at January 24, 2005 11:10 AM

You can't have the database automatically ignore "city" as google does with "a" "if" "the"

There are actually cities with the word city in its "official name" such as Carson City

Also the web site say Welcome to the official New York City Web site to distinguish its self from New York State. The reason why if you ask some one where the David Letterman show is shot they will tell you New York City.

Posted by: Michael at February 21, 2005 01:35 PM

obviously liz, above, didn't try the site, as New York City got the same result as new york city, at least if she's referring to capitalizion in her 'dumbing down' rant.

Posted by: Bob at March 21, 2005 08:17 PM


o, i just looked @ her post, she was referring to capitalization.

Posted by: Bob at March 21, 2005 08:21 PM

You know what? I don't care about all this nonsense. Fact is,'s search capabilities ARE frequently not wrong, but BROKEN, during the past couple of months. Many days, the search doesn't ever complete, just posts a "searching" message indefinitely, especially if you request that "nearby areas" be added. This has been going on week after week. Somebody has their head wedged well up their colon.

Posted by: Kurt at May 26, 2005 05:46 PM

If the user is looking for real-estate in New York City, then she doesn't know what she's asking for. Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, and Manhattan - are all NYC. Also New York can also mean just Manhattan.

Of course this doesn't mean the site shouldn't give her the ~50,000 properties in the city.

Posted by: Bklyn at September 29, 2005 02:15 PM

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