Maps make for messy results

Zillow released a new design for their search results pages last week, and while we’re strong advocates that websites should lead their users towards new experiences, this one feels like a bust.

The comments on Zillow’s blog speak loud and clear. (hat tip to Jay Thompson for pointing this out)

“The Map, which now dominates the space, is just a map. It’s nothing without the information… so why would the site focus on the map, when people are here for the properties and the information about them?”

“This new format is the pits. I understand the appeal of a map interface, but it is not the most helpful piece of information. I use it to find a neighborhood or get a sense of where the house is relative to other points of interest but after I am in the general vicinity it just isn’t relevant.”

Or perhaps, put more bluntly:

“You’ve broken zillow.”

Their new design double-downed on the map, making it bigger and relegating the property list to a secondary position.

I don’t doubt Zillow’s credentials in this space. They’re staffed to the gills with smart people and test their user interface like crazy. I’m also grateful for their presence in the industry as they have pushed us all to think bigger. But they’re also technologists and I think they’ve misstepped here.

Perhaps in all their geekiness they’ve misjudged their users’ affinity for maps.

When Google announced its retreat from real estate, many speculated on their reason for exiting, us included. But perhaps it was really this simple: that a layer of listing data on Google Maps is just a really crappy way to find a home.

“It’s all about location, right?” wonders Zillow’s blog post. Actually, in our experience, it’s not – it’s all about the properties. Location is secondary. The comments from Zillow users seem to echo this.

But this post really isn’t about calling out Zillow on their redesign. This just reinforced my larger belief that we need to think differently about how we display property data online.

Circle back to the Google announcement for a second. What if a relaunched Google Real Estate looked less like Google Maps and more like is a radically new shopping experience. It features big, bold images. And it’s inherently social. What if real estate search results looked liked more this?

We have a number of big projects in the pipeline this year that will require us to think deeply about this question.

But bottom line, it’s high time we start to think beyond the map. I hope Zillow does too.