Recent earthquakes via USGS API with location-specific keywords and results
The editorial team that worked with Yahoo’s search content management platform was broadly tasked with generating and working on ideas for new search features. One method of doing this was to browse government developer sites for APIs and structured data that might map to valuable search user needs. That’s how I learned about the United States Geological Service’s “latest earthquakes” API.
First, I wanted to determine how often people search for earthquake information, and how they formulate such queries. Once internal analytics tools validated that there was sufficient search volume to proceed, I used a tool that let me pull queries by URL–that is, I got a report containing search queries that resulted in a web result click anywhere on the “earthquake.usgs.gov” domain. I classified these queries as “earthquake data intent” and “not earthquake data intent,” and further by patterns like “6.2 earthquake,” “earthquake in Japan,” and “latest LA earthquakes.”
Once I identified the main earthquake-intent patterns, I needed to determine how best to handle location information. Because the USGS API supported location by both a radius around a single point (appropriate queries containing a city name) and a bounding box with minimum and maximum latitude and longitude (worked for countries and regions), I created a list of popular locations for which bounding box location was more useful than a radius and let a global location list handle everything else.
Finally, the UX proved trickier than hoped. Initially I hoped to include a map component, which was supported in our tool, but a front end bug prevented it from rendering correctly, so I worked with a designer to massage a text-only table into an appealing result that presented all the relevant information. (Because the bug did not appear for any high-priority features, the engineering time was unable to devote time to fixing it.)
Earthquakes represented an interesting use case for location handling. The search feature routinely spiked any time the earth moved and appeared alongside news headlines.