Category Archives: Google MapMaker

Oh Where is Washington, NC? How to Fix a Google Map Error

atlantisEgregious mapping errors occur a lot less these days on Google Maps. While roads are still being lost or misnamed in New Jersey, we have seen no lost towns and misplaced communities like we saw in 2009 and 2010. And truth be told the problem with roads in New Jersey may be just a reflection of some larger ground truth.

But when serious mapping errors do occur they are still painful and negatively impact the businesses involved.  I recently received this email from a forlorn innkeeper, Beckie Sipprell in Washington, NC:

Hello Mike,

Lisa Kolb at Acorn suggested tha tyou might be interested in a dilemma that we have in Washington NC. The town of Washington NC, not the County. That is the issue. When someone puts in Washington NC Bed and Breakfast or restaurants what shows on Google Maps are places in Washington County NC…and no one seems to know how to undo this.

If you have any magic in this department please pass it on to us. I am at a loss. Thank you for any help you might give.

I asked Dan Austin for a MapMaker perspective on the problem and whether anything could be done.

Here is his response (once again chock full of useful tidbits if you run into this issue).

Yes and no.

Google MapMaker Update Summary: One Database to Rule Them All

Now that MapMaker is back online, I wanted to understand the recent changes to MapMaker in the bigger context, how the changes related to the Places for Business Dashboard, the G+ Pages for Local and when it still makes sense to use MapMaker.

I asked Dan Austin to write up his understanding of the changes from the top down and to “school” me. That he did. This article is chock full of useful information so print it out and read it while your relatives are watching football games tomorrow. You will be glad you did.

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Recently, with this announcement, Google Map Maker embarked on a project to move their databases into one Maps database, shared by multiple services. Previously, each service (and this is by no means an exhaustive list, just what is publicly facing), including MM (Map Maker), Maps, Google+, and the Dashboard, all ran separate databases, and it was the job of the various sync bots to carry over changes from one database to the next, which they did not always do successfully. While it’s not clear as to how the databases have been integrated, for most changes to the base Maps data, there is now one database that holds these change, and the various UI (user interface) can make visible and affect the data in specific ways, according to the limitations of that particular product. It’s now more appropriate to view the various Maps UI as skins on top of the base Maps data, with various user limitations that control what can be changed. Google still retains much more sophisticated tools to manipulate the data, which, of course, are not publicly available.

Over the long term, as is the case across a lot of Google products (especially with Google+ and a single sign-on and commenting system, most recently seen on YouTube), Google has been working toward adopting a more integrated user interface, to ensure the consistency of user experience and the data they’re attempting to present on Google Maps. To this end, Google has adopted a MM-lite UI for Google+ Edit Details (aka Maps Report a problem), and has slowly been deprecating features on MM that previously gave MM editors discretion as to the popularity and accuracy of geo data. Those options, through lack of use, a misunderstanding as to how features should be presented, and/or a decision by Google to trust their own algorithms, internal processes, and the accuracy of the data as it’s now viewed, are now gone from MM. What we’re left with is a much more simplified MM UI, and we’ll explore some of the changes that might affect SEO operators who work from MM.

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Google MapMaker Back Online – What has changed?

Google MapMaker is back on line after having been down for several days. What has changed?

Commenter George noted that that it is once again showing SABs hidden addresses. Probably a bug.

The other obvious change is that it no longer is accepting custom categories. What else have you noticed?

Here is the post that Mark mentions in the comments. Not much here. But I have to believe more has changed in the plumbing and the relationship to the local database.

New email settings

  • Be the first to know what’s going on in Map Maker or track your edits by checking the email preferences in the Settings menu.
  • To Enable email preferences:
  • Click the gear icon at the top right corner on the viewport.

  • Select Settings from the dropdown.

  • From the “Email preference” section, check your preferred options.

  • Click Save and you’re done.

New message pop-up for disconnected segments

  • Sometimes, disconnected roads are created that do not add any value to maps data. To avoid such erroneous additions, you will be prompted to confirm if the new road is actually not connected to any road segment. If you’re sure that such a road exists, you can check “Continue” and add the road.

Temporarily removing the duplicate option while deleting a feature

  • In order to do some behind-the-scenes improvements, we have temporarily removed the option “ This feature is a duplicate” while deleting any feature. We apologize for the inconvenience and will update you once it’s back. In the meantime, if you’d like to delete a duplicate, choose the reason as “Other” and mention that you are deleting a duplicate in the “Comments” section.
  • Deprecated “Geometric accuracy” from Map Maker
  • Continuing our process of streamlining Map Maker with Google Maps, we have deprecated the “Geometric accuracy’ attribute from the Map Maker interface.

 

Google MapMaker Going Offline for Upgrades

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 7.05.42 PMThis was posted in the MapMaker (thanks to TC Treebles for the heads up) forums this afternoon. It is highly unusual for Google to take a product offline, even if temporarily, ever. The idea of getting rid of whacked out bots and having a single, authoritative single repository for all location data is significant.

Planned Map Maker Outage, beginning Nov 20, 2013

Hi Mappers,

One of the great things about Google Map Maker is the fact that the wonderful contributions you make go to all of Google’s products, including Google Maps, Google Earth, and Google Maps for Mobile. In order to strengthen the link between Map Maker and these other products, we are making some behind-the scenes improvements to ensure your mapping contributions reach all associated Google products as efficiently and reliably as possible. These changes will also result in a single repository to hold all Maps data, and let us get rid of Google Automated Syncer bots and related issues.

Within the next day, Map Maker will undergo a planned outage, lasting a few days, to make these changes. During this time, we will be unable to accept edits or reviews of edits on Map Maker. You will still be able to use Google Maps to report a problem or fix the map. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience this may cause and will post again when we begin the outage.

Thank you for your understanding,

Pavithra Kanakarajan and Anand Srinivasan
Map Maker Product Manager, Map Maker Tech Lead

Step by Step Guide to Enhancing Multi-lingual Listings on Google MapMaker

Google has never fully supported multi-lingual listings in Places very well. At one point Google was suggesting that you create a separate listing in a different dashboard in the alternative language. Unfortunately Google was unable to keep those listings from merging and the practice was ultimately prohitibited. The current dashboard offers no real alternative. MapMaker however does offer limited support for multiple languages in a single listing. While the user experience with this is still not ideal (for example you can’t direct a user to a specific landing page) it is better than leaving the translations to chance. I asked Dan Austin to write up a guide to using MapMaker. Here is a link to a PDF Cheat Sheet (without images) of the process.

As a side note, MapMaker is not for the faint of heart and is very quirky and often bug ridden. Caveat emptor!

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If your listing has international customers or your country is bilingual, a good way to attract their favorable attention is to add accurately translated names to your listing. These will show up in the search results better, since the searcher may be viewing your listing through their native language web portal.

I’ve selected a famous brand listing, The Hilton Club New York, in a world-renowned city that brings a lot of tourists from around the world to illustrate what you can do to enhance your listing with additional languages for display on Google Korea.  I’m going to use Google Map Maker to do this, since it offers an opportunity to not only explore MM but also enhance your listing in a way that your Dashboard or Support may not be able to accomplish.

1.  Open MM.

2.  Find the listing by typing it in the search field (the more details, the better)—it works just like Maps.

image01-mm

2a. (Alternately, find the listing in Google Maps then open it in MM by clicking on the Edit in Map Maker link on the bottom.)  If you can’t find it using search, use the address, then right click, Find near this point.  It will usually turn up.

image02-maps-listing

image04-report-problem

3.  Click Edit, Edit this place.

image05-edit-this-place

4.  Click on Name, then Add more names below that.

5.  Click on +1 (or more; total number can vary, from 1 to 100) more names if it’s available (that shows all the names)

6.  Start adding names, or correct existing names/tags.  Each name should be language specific (English:  The Hilton Club of New York), and should be tagged with the following tags:

  • Primary (the name it’s more commonly known by for each language type—there should be only one for each language type).
  • Local (the language most predominant in the region—for example, if the hotel is in NYC, it would use Local for all the English name tags; if it’s in Tokyo, it would use Local for all the Japanese names; only one set of Local tags for one language type, so all the English names in NYC are Local, but none of the other languages use the Local tag),
  • Obscure (the name it could be known by, but isn’t used very often).
  • Official (whatever the official name is on the hotel, usually visible on the website or building or promotional literature).
  • Abbreviated (the short name for the hotel, usually something like HCNY).

Using the above system and the example, I would create something like the following for the English and Korean languages:

image06-adding-names

 

 

  • English:  The Hilton Club New York (Local, Primary, Official)
  • English:  Hilton Club New York (Local)
  • English:  Hilton Club New York Hotel (Local, Obscure)

Google translation (not necessarily accurate, but used as an example) of the above names, in order:

  • Korean: Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 9.31.46 AM (Primary)
  • Korean:
  • Screen Shot 2013-11-02 at 9.31.53 AM (Obscure)

You can have as many translated names as you want, for either the specific language or languages in total (provided that Google supports that specific language), but you can only have one name as Primary for any given language.

(Note:  If you hit a hard limit on the total number of names you added (Add more names disappears; sometimes you can only add 5 new names), you can save the edit, as below, and then re-open it, and add more names.)

If, as in the case of this listing, you find a bunch of names that are wrongly tagged in a different language than the provided “translation”, either correct them by accurately translating the names or delete them.  For example, (Spanish) Hilton Club New York (Primary) probably isn’t the Spanish translation of that name.  MM doesn’t provide an easy way to organize names, and it’s not always clear if there are redundant translated names (for example, two Norwegian tagged names).  Not infrequently, to get a sense of the redundant names, I’ll either start over by deleting them all, and adding new ones, or copy/pasting them into a separate document (like a spreadsheet) to see all the names.  Maps often adds these non-translation translations to popular features using a separate data feed, even though they’re not ‘translations’.

image07-alt-names

 

7.  Click Done if that button is visible.  If not, skip and go to step 8.

8.  Add an explanatory note in Comments, if necessary, and select Correcting Poor Data as the reason.  Since GLEs (Google Listing Editors, from the Maps team), rather than GRs (Google Reviewers, from the MM team) often review claimed POIs (point of interest), it’s helpful to add an explanatory cut-and-paste generic note (i.e. I’m adding additional foreign translated names, and correcting the tags for the English names so they appear correctly on Maps.) and, if necessary, alert Support in advance that you’re going to be fixing some of your POIs from MM.

9.  Click Save.

10.  Wait.  Usually a few days to a few weeks.  Pending edits stays under the My ActivitiesIn Review (or Everything, for everything)  As noted before, the edit can be Denied, Accepted, or Approved.  If it gets Denied or Accepted (without approving the changes—check in the DetailsHistory and/or Published to ensure that all your changes were accepted), then save the link from your MM sidebar (My ActivitiesEverything) or the email you’ll get, and contact Places Support to have them override the GLE (or GR) and approve the rejected changes.  Approved is the most desirable state of affairs, although as often the case, the review process can be occasionally chaotic and erratic.  (Note: Accepted is just another way to reject your edit without affecting your approval rating, visible as a percentage if you hover over your profile name or picture.  Lower percentages can send your edits into moderation, and is a measure of your trust in the system.)

image08-everything

 

Avoid using any misspellings, w*ird [sic] characters, ALL CAPS, and anything else that marketing suggests to increase the name presence of the POI on Maps.  Names should be accurately and reasonably spelled.  Google is really good at providing suggestions for misspelled words.

  • image09-lockedIf the listing is Locked (example), you can’t edit it in MM (and it’s not really clear you can edit it in Maps using Report a problem, but you can try).  Contact Support to unlock (they can do this, even though they claim they can’t, for various policy and technical reasons).  Locked are usually high value or frequently vandalized POIs which you should be able to freely edit if you own the listing.
  • You can also use Report a problem on Maps to add additional names and tags, which uses a simplified version of MM, and follow the steps above.
  • For additional guidelines, see MM Help.  They have excellent visual guides, and frequently, YouTube videos.
  • You can add translated categories, like ?? (Hotel) but I usually avoid that, since Google automatically (and accurately, for standard cats) translates those categories based on the specific language that each country is using.  You can also add custom categories, but I also avoid that for claimed listings (unless no equivalent category is available in Places), as that might cause issues with claimed listings on the Dashboard, due to Google’s restrictions on custom cats.
  • If a country uses multiple official languages, use one Local language that best suits that region (example:  Canada, which has two official languages.  Use English as the Local language in Vancouver, BC, and French as the Local language in Quebec.
  • Don’t use Google Translate.  It just doesn’t work for formal names, and it’s becomes increasingly inaccurate the longer and more complex the word clusters are.
  • image10-categoryWhile you’re working on the listing, take the time to note any additional points that should be corrected or enhanced for your listing.  Since it’s usually claimed listing, the fastest and easiest way to correct the contact information and categories is to do so from the Dashboard, rather than MM in order to avoid any of the above moderation hurdles.  For example, in the case of this particular listing, categories like Luxury Hotel or whatever you think is appropriate could more accurately direct Google Maps searches to this POI.
  • A Googler has a G tag next to their name.  GLEs are usually, but not always listed as Listing Editors or similar.  Google Reviewers usually use Google Reviewer in their name and a badge on their profile.  GLEs will not have a Google tag on their profile.  Why is this important?  In the review process, each has their separate reviewing responsibilities and belongs to different Geo teams, and depending on who reviews your edit, this may affect the outcome of the edit (GLEs are not well-regarded in the MM community, as they often make incorrect reviews, and it’s an outstanding ‘bug’ that MM is working to fix)image11-12-editor-reviewer
  • If done right, your visitors will be able to quickly and easily find your listing in their native language when they search for it on Google Maps.

Microsoft Buys Nokia – What will become of Navteq/Here?

Microsoft bought Nokia today for $7.2 billion dollars. Nokia, you will recall, bought Navteq in 2007 for $8.1 billion in what was hailed at the time as pivotal move by Nokia into location based services.

But as Horace Dediu pointed out,  by late 2012 Navteq had been losing about $1 billion a year for Nokia and the purchase effectively had cost Nokia’s stock holders $11 billion in total since it had been acquired.  He notes that Google is rumored to be spending a similar $1 billion a year to maintain their Maps data. Tomtom, now worth about $1.5 billion in total, appears to have done little better with their $4 billion TeleAtlas purchase.

Neither company has kept up with Google in the pace of map development and certainly not in the pace of mapping updates. If you have ever had to suggest a map change to either TeleAtlas or Navteq and anticipate the map update, you know that you can get very, very old waiting. Both Google and OpenstreetMap have the ability to get updates through their systems in weeks not months or years. Neither Navteq nor TeleAtlas seem to.

Owning a mapping company has not provided much if any value to the purchasers. And it would appear that the expense of running them has constrained their ability to compete with Google.

Will that continue to be the case going forward? Can Microsoft/Nokia and TomTom extract enough value to continue their expensive and not very successful efforts to maintain the maps? It would seem that the world is not a big enough place to support 3 mapping companies even when the maps are used to support the other sales efforts of their owners. As reader Marc points out, this leaves Here as part of Nokia’s network infrastructure business and a likely drag at that. Hardly a long term match and likely to be spun off and perhaps more appealing to Apple or Samsung. What value could it possibly bring?

And where does that leave Apple? Buying a TeleAtlas a mapping company is one thing, maintaining it is quite another.

Update: Here is Microsoft’s “strategic rationale” vis a vis Here/Navteq:
Screen Shot 2013-09-03 at 11.12.16 AM

Google+ Local Bug: Service Area Business with Address Hidden Showing Address

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 9.18.16 AMIn Google+ Service Area Businesses (SAB in Googlespeak) that are in a residential area or do not accept walk in traffic are required to hide their address in the Places Dashboard. Normally this results in the address being hidden in Maps and Plus and a round pin showing

However since mid March there have been repeated reports of SAB addresses selected to be hidden that have their addresses showing up the Maps and Plus results. This was first reported by Linda Buquet but I continue to get inquiries about it and see new postings in the forum. This is a known bug and Google is aware of it.

The danger of course is that a listing might be deleted due to non-compliance with the rules. Google has indicated that ‘MODERATORs’ won’t be deleting listings now due to the bug. That being said there are powerful volunteer MapMaker editors (RER in Googlespeak) that seem unaware of the bug as indicated  by this recent comment:

 If the address appears to be a SAB from the satellite/street view image or the website and the address is not hidden in Places, I have no problem marking the listing for removal. Rarely will I waste my time or cellular minutes to call a business to confirm.

It’s (85-90% of the time) quite apparent if you have a business reception area or office and see customers at your location. Google Maps (and by extension Places) are for people to visit locations and a business that is primarily a SAB is of little use to someone on a mobile device looking for a business or service.

MapMaker editors, while often well meaning and hard working, often function autonomously and one wonders given their zeal and black and white view of the mapping world whether they are becoming the DMOZ editors of the new millennium. I am all for stomping out spam and making map data more accurate and marvel at the endless hour that RERs put in policing maps. But when the greyness of the real world is removed from judgement and there is a lack of over site bad outcomes will result.

New Report a Problem Interface to MapMaker Rolled out in the US & France

Two weeks ago in Canada,  Google rolled out an Easier MapMaker Interface that took community edits made via the Report a Problem link on a G+ listing and integrated the input directly with MapMaker. That interface has now rolled out to the US. It does not appear that this interface has rolled out in England or Germany but it has rolled out in France and Mexico. I would be curious to hear what other countries do not have it yet and which do.

The change means that all of the information changed by the public will now go directly into MapMaker and become part of the MM approval hierarchy; some edits will be bot approved or denied, some will be done by MM volunteer and some by Google staffers. As RER Andrew Sawyer pointed out two weeks ago, this change should improve addressing issues that revolved around discrepancies in between how Report a Problem  and MM handled things like suite numbers (although whether it will really solve the problem is unclear). It also means that comments made on Report a Problem form will be seen in MapMaker. It should also make it easier to achieve consistency across the Places Dashboard and the MM data. This is moving Google towards a simpler array of databases where changes reside prior to their approval and inclusion in the main Google Local index.

Update: Here is a list from Google of countries that now have the new interface. For once Denmark was not left to last. :)

AT – Austria
AU – Australia
BE – Belgium
CA – Canada
CH – Switzerland
DK – Denmark
FR – France
IN – India
MX – Mexico
NL – Netherlands
NO – Norway
PL – Poland
UA – Ukraine
US – United States

 

report-problem-update1

An Easier MapMaker Interface

In a recent comment Jeffrey Manger noted that “FYI the Mapmaker interface totally blows. What a confusing, ineffective, waste of my time. Maybe there is written instructions in a booklet somewhere on how to actually use this thing.”

I totally agree that the standard MapMaker interface is a total kludge. Only the most persistent and geeky can find their way around there. But there is a new, simplified MapMaker interface being rolled out in Canada that makes editing directly into MapMaker much easier.

You can see this interface by finding the G+Local page for any Canadian business and selecting the “Report a problem” link. It will take you to the simplified MapMaker front end with this new interface. The URL  contains a ton of unnecessary code.

To use this interface to edit a US business take a simplified version of the url:

http://www.google.com/mapmaker?ui_type=pc&cid=3291747407840809159&src=1

and substitue the CID of your local business for the CID above and you will gain access to an interface that is functional and simple enough for us marketers. :)

Google Local: Train Wreck at the Junction

Google Local is a veritable train wreck for business listing management. The Dashboard is in a state of non functioning disrepair, the + Page path to listing management is full of bugs. The current business types supported by the feature set in the +Page environment is extremely limited. The rules for business listings in MapMaker differ from the rules for Places/+Local/Pages and bots there often run amok with listing data. Factor in the technical difficulties of legitimate listings going into “We currently do not support this location” purgatory and being lost for months on end AND the bevy of old issues like merges and duplicates and the wreck starts to take on epic proportions.

The problems are compounded by Google’s unclear complete lack of  guidance as to whether the Dashboard or the social local management environment is the future of their local interface. This adds a level of uncertainty for businesses small and large as to how to proceed with effective listing management. Should a business commit to the new G+ Page local environment? Is this Dashboard being phased out or is it just undergoing a renovation? There are “indications” that both products will exist going forward. Yet Google, rather than laying out a road map so businesses can plan in an intelligent manner, plays 3 card monte with press statements and or makes public utterances that lack clarity.

Has Google Local fallen prey to a failure of management or management turnover?
Is Local under funded?
Is it under focused?
Is it too complicated?
Is the project so big (and incredible) that its gestation period is longer than that of an elephant?
Did the Local team get side tracked by the forced march to social?
Has the strategy of release early and iterate often failed because Google local has forgotten the iterate part?
Are we just seeing a failure of execution?

Who knows. Google is not saying. The problem is that businesses need to plan, they need to keep moving forward on their marketing and unfortunately, for many, Google Local is a key component of that plan.

Here is how I see the situation and my recommendations for the next 60 days as to how a business should proceed given the many, many vagaries of the current situation and why I am suggesting that for most business the best tactic for now is to just sit tight in the old Dashboard and wait:

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