All posts by Mike Blumenthal

Local Business Center Backend being updated

From google Maps at 5:00 pm EST:

The Google Local Business Center is unavailable for the next hour
We appreciate your patience as we perform some routine system maintenance.

More specifically, we’re updating ‘the backend’ (to employ that catchy, catchall moniker coined and lent to us by engineering folks who work on all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes but know we communications folks can’t very well say ‘We’re updating all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes’ and expect you, an enlightened Google user, to take us seriously or at least not wonder aloud ‘ Wait, what sort of bits were those again?’).

So please check back in sixty minutes. Maybe less, considering the time you’ve invested in deciphering this message.

Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me)

Last week I spoke with Marc from, one of the florists in San Francisco that was hijacked in mid September in Google Maps. Two things struck me in the conversation.

The first was that he estimated that his business was off 30% for the weeks of the hijacking. That is a significant number that demonstrates the power that Google has conferred on local search. Research indicates that users are going to the internet for the their local buying information and Google is leading that charge. Businesses have benefited from Google’s prominent placement of local results on the main results page.

The second comment that struck me, was that he felt he only had himself to blame for not claiming the record. He noted that if he had claimed it, none of this would have happened. Of course, he added, he didn’t even know that he had a record in Google Maps but he was learning fast as to how to control it. That hit an odd note for me.

Every small business thinks that if they could only operate like the IBMs, Microsofts or Apples of the world, they would have their act together on these new marketing angles. If like, IBM et al, Podesta Baldocchi were on top of these details they could have prevented this hijacking.

I wondered if that was in fact the case so I decided to see if some of the major Fortune 500 companies had in fact claimed their records and avoided the possibility of hijackings. Microsoft came to mind first. I grabbed one of their listings in Redmond and was able to change the location, url and their business name. Microsoft even managed to gather a spammy review in its short life as an escort service :). Out of a sense of fair play, I changed it back although Google has not yet done so. I wasn’t sure that that Microsoft or Google would appreciate my sense of humor.

So I randomly checked elsewhere in the technology arena to see who else might be susceptible…..
Continue reading Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me)

How long does it take to fix an map data error?

Miriam at Solasdesign has been doing a series of blog posts about the process of updating erroneous underlying map data from TeleAtlas and Navteq. Miriam’s client had a business on a street in Hayward, Wisconsin that was not shown in Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo or MSN. Currently Navteq provides map data to MapQuest, Yahoo and MSN while TeleAtlas provides it to Google Maps.

Today she posted about an actual phone conversation with Mapquest where they clarified the timeframe for NavTeq to get the underlying data fixed:

On a quarterly basis, Navteq sends out drivers (yes, actual drivers in cars) to problem areas that have been reported and they can then update their data with the correct information the drivers collect.

The not-so-great news is that this a long queue process and by the time the data gets corrected by NavTeq (for our client’s town this will be in Navteq’s Jan-March 1st quarter of the year, based upon the time we reported the error), and the corrected data gets sent out to entities like MapQuest, MSN or Yahoo! who are using Navteq data, we would be looking at resolution coming no earlier than May-June of 2009. That’s a long time to wait, but at least we’ve been given a goal to look forward to. I can’t overstate the value of that.

Google switched to using TeleAtlas in a mid September timeframe. The reports of serious underlying map data problems have poured into Google Groups since that time. Miriam first reported this mapping problem to Google shortly after October 18th. How long will it take for the corrections to wind their way into Google Maps?
Continue reading How long does it take to fix an map data error?

Google Map’s spam fighting efforts- if graded?

My son just got his progress report in school and I am proud to say that he got very good grades. It wasn’t always that way, and in fact last year he spent most of the time either on restrictions or with extra chores. He has grown up a lot over the past 6 months and I have to give him credit. It seemed as if I was going to struggle with him for his whole high school career as he “lost” one homework assignment after the next or only “remembered” to finish half of the assignment. I guess there is hope for him after all. In fact more than hope. I am incredibly proud of him.

I am not so sanguine about Google’s chances in fighting mapspam. But it is that time of year so I thought I would offer up a grade.

The recent cases of florist and brand hijackings were some of the most egregious examples of spam that I had seen in a while. I wanted to review Google’s record in dealing with it.

Some 45 or so unsuspecting floral businesses and a number of other national chain locations had revenue diverted (stolen?) when their unclaimed listings were modified via community edits to redirect to an affiliate fulfillment house. One florist, in a large market that I spoke with, noted that his revenue was down 30% for the several weeks that he fell victim to the attack.

That is a large number and it had to hurt. He finally, with the help of Google, regained control of his listing, reappeared in the 10-Pack and all was good. Google, while not preventing the attack, did respond to his pleas in the group and elsewhere.

The trail of the hijackers though was quite clear. A few “community editors” did most of the dirty work of changing the florists, car rental agencies and hotels to their benefit. Google’s community edit system, while woefully insecure, does leave a large footprint. Without the right tools, it takes hours to ferret out the culprits, but their deeds are there for the world to see. With the right tools, it would have taken but a few minutes to track them down and delete their handiwork.

So in determining Google’s grade, with the help of some florists, I went back to review listings that were hijacked and determine their status. Google, for reasons only they know, has not changed many hijacked listings back to the original owners.
Continue reading Google Map’s spam fighting efforts- if graded?

ShopSavvy: ROBO in Real time for Android

Svetlana Gladkova of had an interesting piece on ShopSavvy, one of the first and most popular Android Apps downloadable from the Android Market. She noted that despite some roll out difficulties that by 2 p.m. ShopSavvy had 3096 installs and 3033 users actively scanning barcodes (97% usage rate)and usage was growing 20% an hour based on their server loads.

Basically what ShopSavvy does is helping you find the best deals for a product you consider buying – both online and offline.

A user simply scans the barcode of the product using the camera of an Android-powered phone (for now it is T-Mobile G1 only, obviously) and the application will start scanning available pricing information. Once the scanning is done, the user gets information from both online stores and from nearby local stores (using the GPS functionality).

Right from the application you can either visit the website of an online store selling the product you are interested in while for a local store you can easily dial their phone number or view a map to get the directions. What’s more, you can even track the products you are interested in for the best possible bargains by setting alerts for ShopSavvy to notify you when the product makes an appearance in a store for a desired price

ShopSavvy is an example of real time online research and buying off-line (or not). It is a product that in some ways may redefine price shopping. Its rapid uptake among new users of the G1 indicates a strong consumer interest in the service. The test of the software is whether consumers adopt a new shopping behavior over the long term. Like Frank Fuch’s example of the cell phone as digital ticket, it demonstrates the integration of mobile devices into the fabric of our everyday lives and points to an interesting future indeed.

How does ShopSavvy make money on this?

Here is a video that shows how ShopSavvy works:
Continue reading ShopSavvy: ROBO in Real time for Android

Ambulance Chasing in the era of Google Maps

Wikipedia defines an Ambulance Chaser thusly:

Ambulance chaser is a derogatory phrase sometimes used to describe a trial lawyer who specializes in representing accident victims. It typically refers to attorneys who solicit business (sometimes called barratry) from accident victims or their families at the scene of an accident or disaster (or immediately thereafter). In the United States, such conduct violates Rule 7.3[1] of the American Bar Association Model Rules of Professional Conduct.

A poster (the ever voluble panzermike) in Google’s Report Mapspam thread in Google Groups reports lawyers changing their business names to take advantage of the recent Chatsworth Metrolink accident where 25 died.

Here is a guy who has a fake business name and more than one address (PO Box none the less) to dominate one box for recent Chatsworth metrolink accident. Violates at least two maps rules.

I have noticed that almost every law firm in LA that ranks in Maps is now using fake business names and Maps is doing nothing to enforce their own NEW rules.

Local business results for Metrolink accident lawyers near Los Angeles, CA

Cliff Blackman Train Accident Lawyer
2029 Century Park East, 14th Floor, Los Angeles – (866) 692-8127
Directions, hours, and more »

Cliff Blackman Train Accident Lawyer
P.O. Box 345, Glendale – (800) 975-2993
Directions, hours, and more »
More results near Los Angeles, CA »

It would appear that Google Maps has placed itself squarely in the midst of this shady world of hawking marginal services to the unsuspecting. Like the HIV Mapspam, this type of bottom feeding facilitated by Google Maps, needs much tighter controls. Welcome to the snake oil salesman of the new millenium marketing their wares in the ether.

Android Market goes live

Greg Sterling reports on SEL that the G1 Arrives, So Does Android Market. It marks the second inning in the game of mobile search uptake and promises to open up the market for end users and developers. These are exciting times for mobile search. The development of powerful hand held mobile computing devices with a choice of software, like the iPhone and the G1, will put that power into the hands of many, many users.

Of more interest to me though, is the difference in philosophy between the Apple Apps Store and the Android Market and how that will impact uptake. Google’s choice is for a totally open market place while Apple’s is for a more controlled user experience. Greg notes: ..unlike Apple, there will be no quality control in the Android Market other than the community, which will be able to rate/review the apps.

This openness in the Android Market is much like Google’s approach to local listings. They have faith that the market will self manage or if it doesn’t that the benefits (to them) outweigh the downsides. Markets, as we have seen recently, are not totally rational.

That certainly seems to be the case in the Local Listing arena where greed overwhelms the common space making many search listings almost useless. When money is involved and there is little accountability, we humans have an amazing propensity to “game” the system. Once the profit opportunities become apparent in the Android Market, given its openness, much the same is likely to happen. It will be exciting to watch and frustrating to be a part of.

What do you think Android MarketSpam will look like?

Google Maps: Polling location information goes live polling location goes live

In late September, Google Maps rolled our to provide a single source of voting information for every location within the United States. However, two critical pieces of the voter information program, polling location and directions, were promised for a mid-October rollout.

The polling information is now live in Maps, and the Voting Maplet. Google is also making this data available via a separate Polling Location API, that they are releasing to select partners for this election cycle. In the future Google would make this available to all users, but noted that they aren’t yet ready to open the API up to the world at large. You can read Google’s announcement here.

How the polling location query deals with address ambiguity is interesting. On this query where the city was left off it offered up the following:
Continue reading Google Maps: Polling location information goes live

Local Links of Interest

Verticalized mobile search wins over horizontal mobile search – Dev Khare,

Since (2005/6), I think Google and Yahoo! have cemented their lead in the horizontal mobile search space and Nokia has appeared as a strong contender, especially outside the US with its D2C strategy.   Google and Yahoo! have been duking it out across the world for mobile operator on-deck deals witness Yahoo’s Telefonica deal and Google’s NTT DoCoMo deal I don’t know the exact numbers but I believe live/automated paid directory assistance (which is also mobile search in a broader sense) offered by the mobile operators has also suffered at the hands of mobile local search, mobile horizontal search and free directory assistance – I have heard second-hand rumors that free directory assistance might have taken 5-7% of share away from paid directory assistance.

Many of the mobile search companies have added a greater emphasis on mobile advertising; mobile search has broadened out to include local search (especially with the popularity of GPS-enabled mobile devices), controlled search (searching for media/content in your phone’s file system), and voice search; and verticalized mobile search has gained prominence.  

So will the future bring the dominance of horizontal mobile search or will verticalized search continue to hold its own? How will mobile search evolve different in carrier-controlled markets (e.g. US) versus more open markets? What modes of search will dominate (browser, client, SMS, voice, in-car)? What effect will the iPhone/Android have on mobile search?  Does the online model of ads alongside mobile search results work in a mobile setting?

Apple iPhone 3G sales surpass RIM’s Blackberry

Apple announced quarterly iPhone sales that surpassed those of BlackBerry maker Research in Motion by nearly a million and a half units or 25%: nearly 6.9 million iPhones versus 5.4 million BlackBerry units in the third calendar quarter of 2008. Apple has become the third larger cell phone manufacture by volume and at least according to Jobs, is happy with one model for now.

When asked why Apple only has one product offering in the vast smartphone market and what further opportunities for innovation or “other market opportunities within that market” Apple might have, Jobs replied, “I wasn’t alive then, but from everything I’ve heard, Babe Ruth only had one home run. He just kept hitting it over and over again.

“I think that the traditional game in the phone market has been to produce a voice phone in a hundred different varieties. But as software starts to become the differentiating technology of this product category, I think that people are going to find that a hundred variations presented to a software developer is not very enticing. And most of the competitors in this phone business do not really have much experience in a software platform business.”

“So we’re extremely comfortable with our product strategy going forward, and we approach it as a software platform company, which is pretty different than most of our competitors.”

Introducing the Gears Geolocation API for all laptop WiFi users – Charles Wiles, Product Manager, Google Mobile Team

Accurate, geolocation is rapidly becoming available on a broad range of mobile and desktop devices. The ability to know where a user is physically located within 200m accuracy  portends a change in both what and how local content is delivered. 

When we originally proposed the Gears Geolocation API our goal was to make it easy for developers to deliver location enabled web sites on mobile phones. However we realized laptop users would benefit from location enabled web sites too. Today we are adding WiFi signals to the Geolocation API so that laptop users can benefit from location enabled web sites for the first time and mobile users from the increased accuracy. And because the Geolocation API is the same for developers in both desktop and mobile browsers you can even use the same code on both platforms!

In Chrome and Android, with Gears built in, you can deliver a location enabled web site without requiring your users to install a plug-in, but in other browsers they will need to go through a simple plug-in install process. We also submitted a simplified version of the Geolocation API as a WC3 specification and the upcoming Firefox 3.1 plans to support the W3C version directly. The Gears Geolocation API is completely free to developers and users through the default Google location provider.

New KML Interactive Sampler – Roman Nurik, Google Geo APIs Team,

For those of you wanting to dig a bit deeper into KML…

To the 99.9% of us who don’t know everything there is to know about KML, and have been looking for a way to explore this curious littlelanguage, I present a new learning and exploration tool called the KML Interactive Sampler. One caveat, though — since the sampler uses the Earth Browser Plug-in and API, the Earth view will currently only work on Windows.

Mac folks… be patient, a seriously awesome Mac version of the plugin is in the works!

Search Engines are Re-Shaping Hotel Booking Funnels – Emeka Ajene,

Aided by the work of search engine optimization and marketing specialists, hotel shoppers who input certain brand and location keywords into Google and other search engines often land on hotel property pages. These consumers bypass the top of the traditional hotel conversion funnel (the homepage and search results pages) and the marketing, loyalty, “brand experience” and core value messaging that occurs therein. Moreover, these shoppers interact first with hotel property pages that are often not optimized to serve as the brand’s point of introduction to the user.

As one measure of the prevalence of this behavior, Compete examined the percentage of Google-referred unique visitor traffic to hotel property pages at 6 hotel supplier sites since January 2007. It is first apparent that there is a relatively steep upwards trend through the 20 month period for most sites tracked. In August 2008, among these sites, 27% of hotel property page traffic came immediately from Google on average, up from 18% in January 2007. In addition, during this same time period, hotel property page traffic among these sites is up 28%. Thus, not only is the percentage of Google (and other search) referred unique visitor traffic to hotel property pages increasing but the number of unique visitors viewing hotel property pages is increasing as well.