Houses and AJAX

Album Cover: Sea Change

"How could this love, ever changing, never change the way I feel?"
Beck / Lonesome Tears

Posted on June 24, 2005 1:31 AM in Web Development
Warning: This blog entry was written two or more years ago. Therefore, it may contain broken links, out-dated or misleading content, or information that is just plain wrong. Please read on with caution.

No, I'm not talking about cleaning your bathroom when I bring up AJAX and houses in the same sentence. I'm actually talking about an idea I had on my drive home from work tonight.

One of the more frustrating parts about looking for houses, whether it be to rent or to buy, is trying to find places that are in the right geographic location. In the Seattle area, one of the best options for finding houses for rent is NWClassifieds. They've set up their advanced search page in such a way that it is relatively easy to break down the specific suburbs and "sections," for lack of a better word, of the city of Seattle to find homes in the places you are interested in.

However, anything beyond that ends up being almost a free-for-all, simply due to the fact that there can often be good areas and bad areas within those smaller sections of the city. The Magnolia area of Seattle, for instance, has what I would describe as two very different sections – one that is very nice and another that is, to put it nicely, less than stellar.

When I search for a home in the Magnolia area, though, the results I get could be in either one of those areas. In most cases the search results consist of simple text descriptions (straight out of the newspaper classifieds) of the house in question, and if you're lucky you'll get an address rather than a lone telephone number. It then falls on my shoulders to take the address and utilize a service like Google Maps to figure out exactly where that particular house falls in the neighborhood.

After playing around with Google Maps and seeing the demo of the soon-to-be-released Virtual Earth service from MSN, it seems to me that with a little bit of AJAX (the primary technology used by such services) and some creativity, someone could create a killer web application that would allow potential home buyers or leasers to view available homes on a map. The Virtual Earth application comes to mind in particular, because of the way you can see your search results constantly updating on the map as you zoom in and out or pan in different directions on the compass rose.

If anyone knows of a service out there that does this already, I'd love to hear about it. Something tells me I would have by now, though, given the maelstrom of AJAX coverage that has hit the web as of late. On the other hand, if you like the idea and want to implement it on your own, take it and run with it. Just be sure to let me know once it's implemented so I can put it to use next time I'm looking at potential homes.


nordsieck on June 25, 2005 at 8:25 AM:

I don't think that you are looking for AJAX at all - what you want could be done by a Greasemonkey script from the client side. You just have to be able to figure out a good REGEXP.

As far as sites that offer this automagically, I think that there would be licensing issues, especially if said site was making money off of google's free content.


Bernie Zimmermann on June 25, 2005 at 9:57 AM:

nordsieck, after re-reading my post I realized that using the phrase "primary technology" was a bit misleading. There is certainly a lot more that goes on to make services like Google Maps and Virtual Earth work. It's just that AJAX gets the most coverage.

That being said, though, I disagree that AJAX isn't what I'm looking for. I would want a service similar to Google Maps in that its mapping mechanism would constantly refresh on-the-fly as I zoomed around a map of the Seattle area. Take a look at the Virtual Earth demo I linked to and pay particular attention to the searching for Starbucks example and you'll see what I'm getting at.

Developing a Greasemonkey script to do this would be really cool, too, but in that case you'd be risking those licensing issues you talked about when it boils down to that whole debate about whether or not Greasemonkey scripts are legal, for lack of a more appropriate word.

I think I should have been clearer about the service I'm envisioning being its own application, not something that rides on top of an already existing service.


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