Last week the HomeExchange network launched reverse search. This feature gives members of the home swap network the option to search for other members who want to come to their home town. For instance, if I live in Paris, I could run a search to find everyone who has indicated they want to visit Paris, and then look through those listings for places I want to visit. Or, more specifically, if I’m looking for an exchange to Los Angeles, I could search within Los Angeles just for people who are interested in Paris. Either way reverse search can greatly speed up the work of finding swap partners.
What’s up with the HomeExchange search?
HomeExchange is the biggest house swap network, by a lot. And they’ve been around for many years. So why are they only now launching reverse search? Well this is more of a re-launch. They’ve improved reverse search so that it “works well”. Since it was pretty much not working, at least since the integration of HomeExchange.com into the Guest to Guest technology platform, this is a bit of an understatement.
Some folks from the old HomeExchange.com platform were pretty upset about the lack of reverse search since integration. I haven’t found it so useful as I find many people don’t keep their desired destinations up to date. But I do see how it can be a big time saver. And super fun if you’re open to going anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, the new launch of this feature requires everyone to go in and delete all their preferred destinations and re-enter them. In theory this is a great exercise. When I went in to look at mine I found a bunch were out of date. But in practice this means reverse search still won’t work until people make these updates. And I suspect that will take many months.
I think some of the challenges at Home Exchange are related to this announcement about a month ago:
Last month, we also introduced a new map. Behind a simple design change, it was a matter of making the best technical decisions to ensure better loading time, but above all, to make the results more relevant. We changed service providers, stopped using Google Maps and switched to Here. This change is related to several things. Firstly, the need to set up what are called polygons (you will find out just below what they are), which Google Maps did not allow. And it is also a way to release our dependence on the Web giant who, a few months ago, raised its prices disproportionately.
Regardless of the reasons for the delay, Home Exchange has finally finished building this feature. Unfortunately, when I tested it out I found some serious problems. I checked one person’s listing after she deleted and updated her preferences twice (just to be sure). She has a bunch of preferred destinations. And I was unable to get her house to show up in any reverse searches. Even when I specified her home town as my desired destination and put in her requested destinations for the reverse search. So apparently it’s not quite working yet.
Why is reverse search so hard?
I’ve got it on good authority that this sort of geographical coding is tricky. There are a lot of factors that go into this. And the search takes up lots of resources and runs slowly when not properly optimized. Geospacial programming is a specialty often requiring geography or engineering studies, in addition to programming. I’m not sure what background the HomeExchange developers bring to this challenge, but I doubt they hired a GIS team just for this one small aspect of the website. And I don’t really think that should be necessary.
Perhaps the HE team was still recovering from the very difficult integration of two entirely different platforms that was launched last December. Perhaps reverse search just wasn’t a big priority. I can say that many other networks incorporate reverse search. So this isn’t an insurmountable problem, even for those with just one or two developers.
Reverse search is important enough that I generally mention the availability of this feature in my reviews of home exchange networks. I consider it one measure of a well designed and technically sophisticated house swap network.