Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?

Is Google “crazy” to handle business listings in Maps the way they do?

A recent poster to the Manic Merging of Business Listings posted the following in regards to Google merging competing businesses:

Google map has merged my clients business listing with his next door neighbor’s business. Now, google map will take visitors to his competitor’s website yet under his business name!

This is crazy, and that they have no easy way to report the problem and fix it is very irresponsible on google’s end. How hard it it to have a system to report and correct mergers?
-Frustrated webmaster

@Frustrated webmaster

I would agree that it appears crazy. And a system to easily report mergers also makes sense. Correcting the mergers makes sense from my point of view, your point of view, the point of view of the local businesses BUT not necessarily from the point of view of Google. Google’s behavior, given their interests, is in fact totally rational. Perhaps not in my best interest, not in the best interest of the typical business, and most importantly perhaps not in the interest of society but rational.

Certainly the way that most folks think about a business listing…a single record in a database…it seems like it should be fixable. But Google wants no part of a system in which they are responsible for fixing individual records. Either the results are correct as a result of a scalable algo or they are not. If not, the answer is fix the algo not fix the record. Google views the cluster of information that they have about a specific business as the unit of information. They have a need to merge and purge duplicates into and from the cluster and obviously that needs to happen (from their view) automatically. If a “few” businesses merge at the expense of overall data quality Google figures that they have improved the system. That “engineering” view point obviously creates conflict with the business that was merged. It doesn’t however create conflict with stockholders.

Google views it as a systems level problem that has to be managed by software. They are not interested in a solution that offers perfection and 100% accuracy at any cost, they are only interested in a solution that offers (hopefully) increasing accuracy at very low costs. It was recently reported that Google generates $201,000 profit per employee. The Map’s staff need to sell lots of ads to reach that standard.

Google is the only entity that knows if the records are improving in overall accuracy. They do not seem inclined to share that information. We can only guess if the data is moving in the right direction or not. Certainly reports into the forums have increased and the types of problems reported out are of increasing scale (think locksmith hijacking) but those are anecdotal at best.

Managing business records by algo is cheap & managing by humans is expensive. Google, as a growing profitable corporation views cheap as in their best interest. The small business views accurate as in their best interest. But there is a third player in this scenario and that is society.

Google often uses the mythical user as their proxy for society. They often state their goals in terms of accuracy & quality of results for the user and they tout the user experience as their standard. But I would postulate that society at large also has the idea that these listings are finite and thus manageable. There is the general presumption of accuracy in the listings. If the public can’t safely find a doctor or trust the listings of the locksmith then the value of the Map’s listing declines precipitously.

The market might ultimately “fix” the issue by abandoning Google Maps or Google might actually get the listings working accurately. But there is a third scenario. The market has not always been the master in society and historically monopoly players have had to hew to more stringent quality and societal standards than others. That scenario could very well play out with Maps.

Society as a whole could say: This sucks and lets regulate the obligation of the main providers of business listings to provide rapid fixes to specific errors in a timely fashion. Or society could say: Increase the transparency and report on accuracy. On the other hand, Google and other third party providers could get laws passed which absolve them of responsibility (oops that has already happened)…We’ll see.

Google is doing what all corporations are doing, managing their perceived self interest in relations to Maps. They will continue to do so until either 1)it is too costly to do so or 2)their perception of self interest changes or 3)society steps in and demands a better solution.

The situation is certainly rife with conflict. But if Google doesn’t resolve the quality issues with Maps it may well move beyond my sniping at Google and into the larger societal and political arenas.

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps, Small Business & Society - who's crazy? by

14 thoughts on “Google Maps, Small Business & Society – who’s crazy?”

  1. or society could say: lets just remain complacent. What the monopoly provider provides us is what we get. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so good.

  2. @Stever

    Maybe but from where I sit it seems that capitalism and capital accumulation is way too dynamic for the status quo to last too long in ours, the most aggressive of capitalisms… if google doesn’t fix someone else will…public or private. The function of business resource locator is too important to leave to chance.

    You think Google will end with a paid local system or you think that is what the end game (whoever the provider) will look like?

  3. All Google needs is a noticeable, reliable and foolproof method of having information corrected. Sooner or later someone will wake up and say ‘DAMN it’s a great day for a lawsuit!’, and call their lawyer buddies from college to figure out what they can sue Google for. Loss of income would probably be their first pick. Someone, somewhere always start a suit.

  4. @Telkom

    I aggree that the a foolproof system of corrections would go a long way to dissipating the angst and anger that seems to exist amongst small business people.

  5. Society CAN demand change.

    Where it has worked in America: women’s suffrage, civil rights of African Americans, unions (though these are almost gone now), child labor.

    Where it hasn’t worked in America: Native American rights, consumer safety labeling, energy sources, corporate/government corruption.

    In the first category, demands were met, in the second, they’ve been almost totally ignored. Where we’re at with the second category of items is the popular-to-talk-about stage, I believe.

    Recently, I was reading a newspaper article from around the time of the California gold rush in which the editor announced that it was time to exterminate all California Indians. American newspapers don’t normally endorse genocide 150 years later, and a growing number of Americans of European descent now feel qualms about what happened to the country’s earlier inhabitants. Some have even taken an interest in modern reservation life and the exploitation of such lands by major energy companies who prey upon the extreme poverty of residents. But, who is really going to give back the stolen land or make truly public the extreme loss of life? It’s a popular-to-talk-about subject amongst the general public (TV shows, articles, movies, etc.) but, it’s not a let’s-do-something-about-it subject.

    The behavior of today’s monopolies and corporations is in this same category of talking-about-it, I believe. Your blog, Mike, is a fine example of agitation for better standards. My blog sometimes features the same message, as do many blogs in our industry. I think what you are doing, what I am doing, is trying to be one of the pebbles in an avalanche we’d like to see happen. But there is a sense of watchfulness regarding whether it will actually happen. Whether the general public will actually demand change with such a loud voice that change will happen.

    A messed up LBC record has literally no relationship to genocide in terms of importance, but there is a semblance of arrogance and lack of care for society’s health that is present in the actions of corporations that make profits their gods. There’s something repellent about it, when you view it from the individual human level…the level of the little guy who just lost 60% of his business because of Google’s policies. We don’t like the indifference, and we’d like to see it transformed, but I think we know it will take many, many voices to see that happen.

  6. @ panzermike – nah I love Google, what I’m saying is theres always someone in the woodwork somewhere cooking up their next scheme for a silly lawsuit, and the only reason for the suit would be to make money from it 🙂

  7. @ Telkom….I understand. I love em too. Especially Westgate. She rocks. Anyone who can put up with my incessant whining has got to be an Angel! 🙂

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