All posts by Mike Blumenthal

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.

Local Links of Interest

Where Will Android Go Next? – Om Malik, GigaOm

When it comes to its new mobile operating system, Android, Google’s dreams go beyond just mobile phones. Indeed, the company is hoping that the open-source version of the software will eventually find its way into a panoply of devices.

Fuch's e-Ticket

iPod Touch serves as a flight ticket – a real e-ticket – Frank Fuchs, Locally Type

Frank covers his first experience with using his portable mobile device for e-ticketing. It works and and the counter attendant was able to scan the ticket directly from his iPod screen.

A Look at Google’s First Phone – David Pogue, NY Times

The new G1 from T-Mobile brings the promise of truly open mobile computing with full browsing capability to the cell phone. The logic of a cell phone purchase, however, is made more difficult by the awkward dance between the hardware, software & provider. It is never an easy decision and Pogue’s review of the new T-Mobile Android based G phone points out why.

The Android software looks, feels and works a lot like the iPhone’s. Not as consistent or as attractive, but smartly designed and, for version 1.0, surprisingly complete. In any case, it’s polished enough to give Windows Mobile an inferiority complex the size of Australia; let’s hope Microsoft has a good therapist.

So there’s your G1 report card: software, A-. Phone, B-. Network, C.

InfoUSA, Urban Mapping announce custom local search product – Christopher Hosford, BtoBOnline 

Through a custom integration agreement, infoUSA customers can link business listings with contextually relevant neighborhood information from Urban Mapping’s database of more than 60,000 U.S. neighborhoods in more than 2,700 cities and towns.

The companies said such enhanced geo-location search capabilities would allow for more precise advertising and higher conversions.

SBB trains live on – Robert,

Take a look at what Google’s Jonathan Rosenberg thinks the future of Mapping looks like.

From the Q3 Earnings Call: One other thing I would actually suggest you try one of the coolest maps applications I saw. Go to to see the precision of Swiss trains in real-time and you will actually get a visceral sense of what it is going to be like for people when all of this stuff works on their browsers and works in mobile devices.

Details Emerge about Motorola’s Android Phone – Greg Sterling

Indeed, notwithstanding the built-in social networking elements, price may be a more effective differentiator for the Motorola Android phone. If there is price competition among the various Android vendors, how might that affect BlackBerry and the iPhone? Both have some insulation against price competition: BlackBerry owns the enterprise market today and the iPhone the high-end consumer market. Yet both could be forced to respond if multiple Android handsets are priced closer to $100 than $200.

And the more prices come down for smartphones, the more that segment of the market will grow. Three of the top five selling phones in the US are smartphones (two BlackBerry phones and the iPhone). That in turn benefits the mobile Internet as we’ve repeatedly seen:

Google Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript Local Highlights

Google’s Q3 Earnings call took place yesterday and here is the full transcript of the call.

For your convenience I have extracted those comments that relate to Maps, Local and Local Mobile. There are a number of juicy nuggets and it is worth the read:

Eric Schmidt
Geo-Mobile another core component and new opportunity for us geographically relevant in location based advertising is valuable to users in our view, who are working, developing advertising products that match ads to geographic data. We think that is a big opportunity for us.

Sergey Brin
First of all, this quarter we significantly increased the size of our index. To put this in perspective now, every four hours we index the same amount of information that is equivalent to the entire US Library of Congress. I would encourage you, by the way, how can you see this? I encourage you to search for information that might not have that many references about on the web, whether it is a neighbor or local place, something like that, and just to see how much more information we have been able to put on the index.

We also have continue to take our other corpuses that are not just web pages, things such as books and videos, and we continue to blend more and more of those into the first page of results, across all of our domains. The numbers of these blended results has increased significantly over the past quarter. I would encourage you to try searching, for example, for Michael Phelps. You will see video of swimming and whatnot.

We have also been investing a lot in geographic and local information and I am sure many or all of you have used Google Maps and Google Earth. They are really big monetization opportunity because they are such a local searches and there are many local businesses. Now we have been able to expand just a data available there, so we can provide a better end user experience by launching Map Maker to over 100 additional countries. This is our product of lets end users create and edit the maps for their own countries and regions and by doing so the users have already added over 50,000 kilometers of roads and 75,000 business listings.

I should mention that an increasing percentage of our local search queries now deliver user generated maps content. We have launched Street View in Japan and Australia, and we saw significant increases in usage there. Of course free tune as now available on BlackBerries, and many Java enabled phones in addition to the other phones that already had it. It can be pretty handy, you know, when you do a search for now business or store, restaurants something like that, you can just click on the Street View and see what it actually looks like and make sure that is the place you want to go.

Q & A follows…
Continue reading Google Inc. Q3 2008 Earnings Call Transcript Local Highlights

Google looses Ohio

Like John Kerry in 2004, Google seems to have lost Ohio. Although this time, rather than being due to political operatives or electronic voting machines, the issues seem to lie with some new bug in the Local Business Center. 

A reader, whose daily livelihood depends on the Local Business Center and who was recently spotted with bald spots where her hair had been pulled out, sent in this screen shot:

Google looses Ohio

Merchant Circle causes revolution amongst SMB’s

MarketWatch noted that MerchantCircle Revolutionizes ‘Feet on the Street’ Sales Force by Tapping Current Business Members.  The subhead read: Local Business Owners Rewarded for Signing Up Business Neighbors to Network. I also read with interest Greg Sterling’s related announcement: MerchantCircle Turns SMBs into Sellers where he noted:

In a clever twist, MerchantCircle is seeking to turn its thousands of SMB “members” (it now claims 630K) into a sales channel that will sell its services to other small businesses.

 I could imagine a headline that said instead: Merchant Circle implements new plan to turn neighbor against neighbor.

I can already see Matt McGee, moaning loudly, when he receives his first automated phone call from his local Plumber (Joe?) who mentions in the prerecorded call, that his daughter saw a bad review about Matt’s SEM services, and that Matt better scurry on line to MC for some reputation management and to verify his business.

While I think that the plan is brilliant, the “devil” as they say is in the details and I am sure that Merchant Circle will bring their very special view of marketing to the equation. Any local merchant would be well advised to not be the first one on the block to take up the offer until the details of their marketing strategy become clearer.

You wouldn’t want to be the first merchant to project Merchant Circle’s brand of marketing into your local neighborhood. It may be too clever by half as neighbors have long memories and the revolution of which MarketWatch speaks may not be the one that they envisioned.

Google Maps: Long Term LBC problem fixed promptly

For those of you that didn’t notice, Maps Guide Jen has noted in the comments on my Local Business Center System Errors post:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.

It is great that Google has fixed the problem and that there is a mechanism to report a lingering problem in a structured format.

It is strange, however, that if a business is still experiencing the problem that they would need to notify Google of the fact that their account if broken via the reinclusion form. 

By submitting this request, I acknowledge that:
  • I have read and understand Google’s business listing quality guidelines.
  • My business listings do not violate Google’s business listing quality guidelines.
  • I agree to abide by Google’s business listing quality guidelines in the future.
Details: Tell us more about your business:    

  • What actions might have led to any penalties?
  • What corrective actions have been taken?

One has to wonder exactly why they were being called down to the principal’s office. Did he really notice that little transgression from last month in math class? Man, my mom’s gonna kill me.

Google Maps: Today its Mapspam, tomorrow I retire, I promise

Oneboxes for Credit Repair Mapspam
How do you get 13 Authoritative Oneboxes across the US with a one page website and take the afternoon off earlier? Google Mapspam, of course.

I am such a glutton for the gritty details I could not resist following the trail laid down in the Google Groups for Business Mapspam report yesterday. I think I am in need of joining Mapspam Annonymous.

This particular case demonstrates the least amount of work for the return that I have seen in a while using the same technique pioneered in the Payday loan business last year. There is more than a little irony that with the collapse of credit, the affiliate spammers have moved on to exploiting people needing credit recovery as their targets.

It is particularly galling because Google has awarded them so many Authoritative OneBoxes and it clearly demonstrates the principal that if Google is going to make the job of deceptive affiliate marketing easier and there are no significant penalties to any of the participants, why not?
Continue reading Google Maps: Today its Mapspam, tomorrow I retire, I promise

Google Maps: Short term fix and long term problems in LBC

Update 6:00 pm 10/15/08

Maps Guide Jen has commented below:

Looks like the team was able to get a fix through faster than expected. Most people who were experiencing this error should find that it’s resolved. There may be some people who are still seeing a server error. Those people should file a reinclusion request for their account.


Today, Google’s Maps Guide Jen has announced a short term fix to the recurring system error in the Local Business Center. She notes that Google will provide a fix to anyone reporting the problem in the Group while they work on a longer term repair. If you are experiencing the dreaded System Error report it to Google in this thread and they will take care of it.

TOPIC: System Error accessing Local Business Center
== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Tues, Oct 14 2008 4:39 pm
From: “Maps Guide Jen”

Hi All,

I know this update was a long time coming. The issue is spread throughout the Local Business Center. Because of this, we’re trying to implement a wider-spread fix. In the meantime, we’ll be working to restore access for those who have reported receiving a System Error in this and other threads throughout the group. If you’re still seeing this error next Monday, feel free to push back and let us know.

Thanks for your patience,

Google Maps: Hijackers hit Major Brands

Searchengineland has published my newest installment in the ongoing series on hijackings at Google Maps: Problems Continue With Google Local Business Listings. The same hijackers that hit the florist industry hijacked the local listings of major brands like Mariott, Hertz, Avis and Thrifty changing location, url and business name. The change of business name was such that the listings achieved Authoritative OneBox status with searches like: Orlando HotelsMiami Discount Car Rental & Dallas Discount Car Rental.

It is an interesting story which leads to as many questions as answers, not the least of which being: Why would Google not shut these spammers down after they had hijacked the florists?

You can Sphinn this story here.