I have been thinking about Yahoo lately (big surprise that eh?) and have been mulling over in my head what is what in the world of Local.
Thinking that I needed some more voices to compliment what is rattling around in my brain I wanted to hear what others had to say. I sent the following off to a number of individuals, each having different expertise that they bring to the world of search that I respect, looking for their thoughts.
I asked them if they basically agree or disagree with the premise and if they would answer the following question:
The internet is coming face to face with the communities we live in. Local is at the nexus of this juncture. With the iPhone we now listen to our music, answer our phones, read our email, look at our maps and browse the yellow pages. In the near future we will likely be using our iPhroid (or whatever the device will be called) to replace our wallet, the ATM machine and who knows what else. In the past we have been satisfied with search providing relevant results but we are now in a time when we expect the map and business listings to be not just relevant but correct as well.
As we move forward to what I call the age of the iPhroid with who knows what transactional and social capabilities, does Local need to be held to a higher standard to “truly” succeed and play a trusted role in our lives?
What is your opinion?
Danny Sullivan and Chris Silver Smith responded first so they will be first to go:
Danny: Well, fair to say Mike, I don’t think the standards are very high in local. There seems to be a large degree of trust over community contributions and edits, simply because I don’t think the companies want to expend the people power to clean things up. And I think they also feel most people still look more closely at web wide results, which they pay more attention to. But as local gets used a lot more, I think those standards will have to rise, especially if the players want to gain or keep market share.
Chris: I think it’s a great question. Data quality is one of the biggest issues in local search and IYP, and it seems to not be getting as much play as it really should.
We’re all so dazzled by the whiz-bang interfaces brought to us by Google Maps, iPhones, and other systems that we’re not asking the big questions about whether the data behind it all is reliable. A huge percentage of the time, it simply isn’t.
There have been many times when I’ve sent family and friends to a business, only to find it had closed. I’ve also used online maps many times only to find the pinpoints incorrect — the very worst instance was when I made the maps in printed instructions for my brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner — sending dozens of cars full of hungry friends and family to an incorrect location (streets often have both north and south or east and west numbering systems, and interactive maps sometimes pinpoint them wrong when online addresses don’t include the cardinal qualifier).
It’s all the more ironic if you know that I spent the earlier part of my career as a professional cartographer — I’m at an extreme end of expert users of maps and shouldn’t be messed up by charts and directions as frequently as I have been by online maps. Even knowing the high percentage error rates involved in the services doesn’t help me much — other than if I sense a reason to question a map’s accuracy I may call ahead to get verbal confirmation from a business or other info source.
Quite a number of years ago, John C. Dvorak did a little informal survey of yellow pages results from the major IYPs, and on the basis of it he beat up on Superpages quite a bit for incomplete or erroneous info. At the time, I thought it was pretty unfair because I thought he should’ve taken our data suppliers more to task or should’ve done a broader sampling than one or two searches, but his point was pretty salient and our company beefed up data quality improvement efforts. But, here we are five-plus years out and local search and IYPs would still likely fail his informal test. (Dvorak later stated that he was giving up using 411 and using Superpages instead, so I’d guess he eventually forgave us for sometimes having bad data.)
Inaccuracy in local search info is a really big, complex beast, and there’s no quick cure for it. But, it would likely help if the industry had a lot more transparency as to what they’re doing about it — this is an area where we should have them show their cards in the consumer interest. What if each provider was to set up an info page outlining how they deal with: removal of listings for closed businesses; capturing and updating business info that has changed; criteria for choosing which data source trumps another data source if the two have disagreeing info; computation of map pinpoints; and quality improvement of address locations on interactive maps.
From my perspective, it’s time for each of the major players to stop passing the buck on quality, and work on it more intensively than the cute graphic interfaces.
What if we started rating the various local directory providers by how complete/accurate their data is? It would probably start exposing the fact that the local search emperor has no clothes.