Google Maps: Will Edit Wars go Politically Postal?

The community edit hijackings started in the Payday Loan industries to create location confusion, moved onto theft in the floral industries, were highlighted with a bit of pranksterism with the Microsoft Escort example and subsequently moved into the consumer complaint arena. As Ben Allen noted in his blog: You Deserve a Rake Today at Ickdonalds.

There is certain trend to these hijackings and they beg a larger question: When will politics enter the wiki world of Google Maps hijacking? In the not too distant future, the next frontier for use of the Maps community edit feature could very well be as a virtual reflection of real politics. The disputes of the world often shift to the internet as the broad reach of the platform creates opportunity for widespread impact and the anonminity provides cover to the perpetrators.

When will PETA take over McDonald’s? When will the Armenians take over the Turkish Embassy? When will the Service Workers Unions take over WalMart? These listings all remain unclaimed in Google Maps and seem to be likely targets for partisans of these particular real world battles.

I can only imagine the conversation between Eric Schmidt and the Turkish ambassador explaining how this could have happened.

You can see battle lines forming, albeit in a limited fashion, with edit wars in several of the unclaimed listings that I highlighted last week. These edit wars, once the province of Wikipedia, have now made their appearance in Google Maps. Two examples can be seen in the edit histories of the unclaimed Apple Corporate listing and Google’s unclaimed Cambridge record.

Take a look at the edit history of Google’s unclaimed listing in Cambridge to get a glimpse of the opinions that have already been expressed via Maps about Google:

Nov 6, 2008
Google Inc
5 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142
Changed address to 5 Cambridge Ctr # 3-6 Cambridge, MA 02142 from 5 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA
Changed phone number to (617) 575-1300from (617) 575-1301
Moved location 0.1 mi from 
Changed name to Google Inc from PP Toucher Corporation
Added category Software Company
Removed category Big Brother HQ
Removed category Fights Zombies and Mutants
Removed category Going To Take Over The World
Removed category Hatchery/Conditioning Center
Removed category I can’t believe this is editable
Removed category ISP (through toilets!?)
Removed category Shut up!!!
Removed category ¡Avi!
Edited by Chasity
Changed name to PP Toucher Corporationfrom Cyberdyne Corp.
Added category I can’t believe this is editable
Edited by Leon
Nov 5, 2008
Added category Fights Zombies and Mutants
Removed category Fights Zombies
Edited by Joe
Nov 4, 2008
Added category Shut up!!!
Removed category Software Company which alleges it never does evil
Edited by tiura
Nov 3, 2008
Moved location 0.1 mi from 
Edited by Micah
Nov 2, 2008
Changed name to Cyberdyne Corp. fromNo youz can’t
Edited by I
Changed name to No youz can’t from I Can Haz Cheezburger?
Edited by bob
Changed name to I Can Haz Cheezburger?from I Can Has Cheezburger?
Added category Going To Take Over The World
Edited by Queenie
Changed name to I Can Has Cheezburger?from testing
Edited by Pete
Added category Hatchery/Conditioning Center
Edited by bsjskier
Changed name to testing from Google Inc
Edited by Brian
Added category Big Brother HQ
Edited by D
Added category ¡Avi!
Removed category Avi Raz
Edited by bsjskier
Added category Avi Raz
Added category Fights Zombies
Added category ISP (through toilets!?)
Edited by bsjskier
Nov 1, 2008
Added category Software Company which alleges it never does evil
Removed category Software Company
Edited by Mark Bernay
Moved location 34 ft from 
Edited by Mark Bernay
Oct 29, 2008
Changed phone number to (617) 575-1301from (617) 575-1300
Edited by mblumenthal
Moved location 63 ft from 
Edited by mblumenthal
Moved location 78 ft from 
Changed address to 5 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA from 5 Cambridge Ctr # 3-6 Cambridge, MA 02142
Edited by mblumenthal
Moved location 48 ft from 
Edited by mblumenthal
Google Inc
5 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, MA 02142
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Google Maps: Will Edit Wars go Politically Postal? by

9 thoughts on “Google Maps: Will Edit Wars go Politically Postal?”

  1. The sad thing is that Google doesn’t really care about this problem. I read in another blog post that they will continue to stand by the current process. Looks like a large flaw in this system.

  2. Hi Nick

    If you read what they said carefully it is not clear that they are standing by the current process. Their comment was much more ambiguous than that…so while they are standing by the concept of “open community” as it relates to Maps they may or may not really care about this problem. I could conceive of a number of solutions that would continue to embrace an open community while shutting this hole down.

    Here is an excerpt of their comments:

    The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community. That said, we also work very hard internally to identify behavior that doesn’t benefit the community and to take the appropriate actions. …..While some of the changes we’ve made so far have been less visible, we’re confident that we’re on the right path to effectively reducing mapspam.

    Time will tell whether they shut this gaping hole or not.


  3. Hey Mike,
    Ben Allen’s name is new to me (though I nice Colonial sounding name, really). I wonder where he got that crazy McDonald’s photo. He looks like an interesting fellow to keep an eye on, and he clearly has good taste in his favorite new bloggers.

    It looks like you are playing chess with Google’s business marker. I particularly appreciate the category “I can’t believe this is editable.”

    It’s somehow poignant that Google has failed to claim their own listing.

    I have a question for you. Can you imagine Google taking punitive action against community editors who maliciously (or merely irreverently) alter LBC data? I’ve been trying to think that over, thinking about my own little Google account I write business reviews with. I’ve made several MyMaps as well.

    Let’s say you have a Google account, and you own a Chinese restaurant. It’s got nice reviews, a high Maps rank, good UGC, citations and has been enriched with MyMaps, photos, videos, etc.

    Say you then hijack the listing belonging to the Chinese restaurant down the street.

    Then Google (somehow) discovers what you’ve done, and that the account that hijacked the listing is the same one that belongs to you and your Chinese restaurant.

    Can you imagine Google implementing some kind of penalty against you. If so, what could the penalty be? Could they take you out of the index? Drop your rank? Delete your MyMap, video? Take away your reviews, as in the case of the Canoe guy?

    What do you think about this?

  4. @Miriam

    The rules will certainly need to change. The direction that will take is anyone’s guess.

    I suppose that Google could at some point be punitive but so far they seem to ignore these things. For example in the floral hijackings, the users responsible appear to had changed numerous other listings. Not only were those listings not removed, the users remained intact.

    In the Maps support group, there is a troll, who if anyone should be banned, he should. Yet they tolerate his extensive and obnoxious behavior.

    So while they could be punitive, it seems more likely to me that they will move in a direction more like wikipedia where there is some hierarchy and procedure imposed by the community on the edit process. Even that seems woefully inadequate in this situation but I think it more likely than banning.

    The question for me is will they change the community edit feature and when…I see the fireworks coming a not too pretty sight….Now what were you saying before about Monsanto and genetically modified foods?


  5. Hmm…I wonder what it would be like at Maps with an actual Wikipedia hierarchy. That’s something to think about. I think it could help, to a certain point, but continue to feel that business information is a completely different animal from educational trivia. A wrong answer, on even one day of one week, can mean lost business, lost drivers and lost credibility for Google. By contrast, nothing terribly bad is likely to happen if someone learns that Abraham Lincoln was 3 inches taller than he actually was. Only credibility is at stake.

    “Now what were you saying before about Monsanto and genetically modified foods?”

    You know, Mike, it’s a tough thing about nice people. With Monsanto’s listing sitting unclaimed, someone who doesn’t like their plan to put a patent on the world’s food supply while turning it into terrifying garbage could do some very pointed things to their LBC listing. But, I’ve noticed that people with the strongest social concerns are frequently the most unwilling to do even their enemies a dirty turn. Too much conscience.

    On the other hand, should one of the small farmers whom Monsanto has tried to sue and ruin decide they’d like to alter the corporation’s LBC listing to something more colorful, I would not say them nay.


  6. @Miriam
    I didn’t think you would take over Monsanto’s listing but I thought I would tempt you anyways…

    Re the Wiki model, it is conceivable if the community were wide and deep enough then bad editors could be “punished” by other users if not by Google. But that level of use and engagement seems unlikely in any near term and I am not sure that it would be an improvement.


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