Local News of the Weird

iphone-app3

How much enhanced reality is too much?

The new Email ‘n Walk iPhone application (via NY Times) is an iPhone app that overlays an image of what is in front of you while you are walking down the street reading your e-mail. Presumably this prevents you from walking into something or someone. Unfortunately it only shows what is in front of your, not to the side or behind so presumably its of little value in protecting you from muggings or bikes speeding by.

The good news? It’s free but it does come with the cautionary note from the authors:

“Note: We can’t take any responsibility for your stupidity, so please don’t go walking into traffic, off of cliffs, or into the middle of gunfights while emailing.”

The bad news? It doesn’t support texting.

 

Would you buy a 100 lb weakling?

In a previous life I sold computer hardware and still occasionally receive promotional pieces. Netbooks are all the rage for on the go & cheap computing. There are rumors that the major cell carriers will soon be giving them away with a wireless access contract and they are one more mobile step in the local ladder of adoption . One of the criticisms in the market of these Netbooks is that they are underpowered and feature poor. 

Now if you were selling a Netbook  product would you name it after that famous 100 lb. wimp?

100lbweekling

Should Google Maps Include a Warning Label with the 10 Pack?

gum_disease_wrning_labelGoogle treats Maps as a free resource that it provides to the public. From their point of view, any problem that exists, if it can’t be handled at an engineering level really is not significant.

For users, there is an understanding that Maps is fulfilling a critical information role in our society and there is the underlying assumption of accuracy.

The interests of the user, the business and Google soon diverge quickly when innaccuracies show up in the system. It doesn’t matter whether the problem is caused by Google (think mergings) or by a third party (think hijacking), Google is going to see it as a statistical problem with a certain priority while the patient that went to the wrong emergency room or the business loosing income will view it as problem worthy of specific oversight and intervention.

Here was a post today in the Forums that is suggesting that Google should publicly and obviously recognize this difference with a Warning Label:

Shouldn’t Google post a visible warning to users about the merged information until it’s cleared up?
Google admits it’s a problem they are trying to fix but also says it could take some time.Our bed and breakfast listing shows our name, our competition’s address, our telephone number and our competition’s web address as well as their logo that links to their site. The problem is over 90% of our business comes from our web site. We have received a few calls that were clearly addressing the rooms they saw for the other Inn, so we directed them there, but we couldn’t figure out why that was happening. It took two days and much reading to find that it was a problem Google was having. It seemed that information should have been a bit more accessible. 
And now, reading other people’s stories leads me to believe that Google should clearly post a warning to ALL users (not just those that have listings) that the Google Map information may not be accurate. This shouldn’t be taken lightly. Too many people rely on Internet information as if it’s infallible.

Google does place a warning on their driving directions:

These directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, weather, or other events may cause conditions to differ from the map results, and you should plan your route accordingly. You must obey all signs or notices regarding your route.

Should Google include a Warning Label with Local Results?

Google Maps Development History 2005-2008

A reader sent a query several weeks ago asking for a time line of developments for Google Maps. I sent him over to the Wikipedia article on Google Maps as a possible resource. I subsequently went there myself and realized that it had not been updated in  since the end of 2007 and that many details that I considered important were missing.

It seemed that to understand Maps, the competitive landscape and the future direction of local, it was necessary to have a strong record of the developments in Maps for the past few years. I decided to take the time to update the article at Wiki with those additional Maps developments from 2006, 2007 & 2008 that I was aware of. Here is that list. If I am missing any please let me know:  
Continue reading Google Maps Development History 2005-2008

Google Map: It is the best of times, it is the worst of times…Swine Flu and Maps

Google Maps has been an exhilarting product allowing many to gain a better understanding of the world around them with constant innovation. Sergey Brin noted in his annual Google Founder’s letter that “after the launch of Google Map Maker in Pakistan, users mapped 25,000 kilometers of uncharted road in just two months”. That’s pretty cool stuff. It has also been a product that seems to bring out the worst in people looking to gain a leg up with spamming and hijackings.

swinefly-ny-ny

The Swine Flu epidemic is a perfect case in point and it shows the contradictions in Maps in bold relief. Google Maps was used to track the spread of the epidemic  around the world. The  major press and a bevy of blogs widely covered this  beneficial  use of Maps that helped inform and educate.

But given that Maps is open and easily open to abuse, there are now searches like Swine Flu NY, NY that return spam in Maps of the most exploitive sorts. SafetyGearandMore.com were not the only ones to utilize Maps for their commercial advantage as several others across the US did as well. As Dickens noted in The Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities
English novelist (1812 – 1870)

Google Promotes Profiles with Free Business Cards

Google doesn’t frequently advertise their services or products in traditional venues very often. Apparently there are plans to advertise Chrome on TV and they ran their billboards for Goog-411 in out of the way places in September of 2007. In late April, Google introduced profile results that included personal profiles as a OneBox in the main Google search results. To promote this service Google offered up 25 free business cards to the first 10,000 respondents with profiles (thanks to Steve Hatcher of AxeMedia.com). Mine came in the mail today:

bus-card2

Along with the free cards came a promotion from iprint to buy an additional 250 cards for $19.97. Ironically, this is an 18% premium over their current rate for full color cards that include address, phone, business name, etc. One would have to love Google an awful lot to buy a set of business cards that forces the user to the web to get critical contact information. That being said, I am glad to get the cards for free as I stopped carrying business cards about the same time as I threw away my fax machine. These 25 should last me a very long time. 

Another irony, from where I sit, is that it appears that my personal profile is more secure and less vulnerable than a business listing in Maps.

Google Maps: How to Remove Duplicate Records in the Local Business Center

It is not uncommon in Google Maps for one business location to have multiple business listings. They come from Google’s many data providers, readers who create new records before checking for existing records and from the Local Business Center itself.

There has always been confusion about how to handle these duplicate records as the wrong click could remove the business from Maps completely. Even though you thought you were suspending the duplicate you might be suspending all of your records. The process is counter intuitive to the point that in the past even Google has had trouble describing the process of duplicate record removal.

Google has now published an authoritative description of the duplicate removal process (updated 5/9):

Disclaimer: Before you get started, it’s important to remember that a listing contains information merged from multiple sources. Suspending a duplicate listing could cause the original listing to be removed from Maps, because all sources of information for both the original and the duplicate might be suppressed.

  1. Choose the listing that you’d prefer to keep in your account. Make sure that you have all your enhanced content (photos, business hours, description) attached to this listing and this listing only.
  2. For duplicates of this listing in your account (the ones you want to remove), remove all enhanced information. Keep only required information, like the business title, address, and onephone number.
  3. Submit these changes and verify as necessary.
  4. Now, sit tight for a couple of weeks – just for good measure.
  5. Delete the duplicates from your account, choosing Remove this listing from my Local Business Center account.

That’s it! Now you should only have one entry to control the details of your business listing. Be patient with updating certain kinds of information, like pictures — they should eventually appear in Maps.

Kudos to Google and Joel for posting this instruction.

Microsoft’s TellMe Spams Google with Bogus Tech Support Number

I saw this posted in the Google Help Forum thread Google is Merging Map Records and wondered if she knew something that I didn’t:

hmcx2
4/29/09
We tried the Google Technical Support people (Julie & Billy, the supervisor) at 888/882-7114. They sounded like they could fix the problem but only if we paid $35.00. Since we never requested that our listing be merged (in fact, we actually never even placed the listing – they said maybe a phone company had listed it on Google) it seems unfiar to charge us.

If anybody finds ANY route to contact somebody at Google to fix this – please post the info – be it phone number, email address or postal address.
—-
Maps Guide Adam
Google Employee
4/29/09
Please note that we don’t offer telephone technical support for LBC listings or other issues in Google Maps. If anyone claims to be able to fix this issue, for a fee, please *DO NOT* pay them. They are not representatives of Google.

Now Adam’s answered was obviously correct but this definitely piqued my curiosity so I began the hunt and searching (where else?) on Google I came upon this incredibly (and unintentionally) ironic post; And we thought Microsoft was the Evil Empire? where author Pamela notes:

So, after time and time of looking through insulting, tedious, no-result in sight surveys, I decided to call (and yes, there’s no phone number available to the naked desiring eye) 1-800-555-1212. I got connected to: 1-888-882-7114. This number gladly shared through a recorded voice that Google was happy to help, they were open 24/7 and guess what? FOR ONLY $2.99 PER MINUTE (was this a 1-900 number?) I could TALK TO SOMEONE. I even got the first TWO minutes for no cost.

Wait. A. Second. You mean to tell me, that I have a problem, and you are willing – YOU GOOGLE – to help little old me for only $2.99 per minute? O.M.G. That is so generous of you. But how do I pay thee, so generous one?

So I called 1-800-555-1212 and TellMe (owned by Microsoft no less) answered: “Please say the name of the listing you want” in a pleasant computer voice. “Google” I said and TellMe responded that the “here’s the number for Google Technical Support 888-882-7114“.

I of course tried calling Google Technical Support. For $2.99 I was ready to pull out my credit card and see which problems they could solve. Unfortunately they were not in and my call was forwarded to 352-264-0014 and the mail box was full.

Dang and I thought I was so close to actually being able to call Google Tech Support….and what do I get? Microsoft’s Spam! Would someone please tell Microsoft that Google does not have technical support?

You have to love local.

Here is a recording of my call: Recording of Tellme Intereaction (mp3)

Google Maps: Manic Merging of Business Listings due to Algo Change

Google Maps Merges Business RecordsAt the beginning of last week, I started to notice posts in the Google Help forum and I received emails from a number of correspondents that their records had merged with nearby competitors. At first blush they appeared to have all of the symptoms of hijacked records however after lengthy, ongoing communication with Google it appears that these merged records are being conflated by Google.

Despite having the Local business Center to provide authoritative information to a business listing, Google for a number of reasons and in a number of situations has always merged some business records inappropriately. The merged records will take on parts of one record and parts of the other in a somewhat willy nilly fashion, the url of one business and the telephone number of the other for example.

Typically these are two businesses at the same address or sharing a phone line. Sometimes the data mixup is from an upstream provider and Google will take the upstream provider’s information as more accurate or important than that in the Local Business Center. In the past Google has advised to slightly modify the two addresses so that Google could do better at distinguishing the merged records. In the case of the bad data coming from upstream data providers, it was necessary to track down the bad data and have it changed or face remergers on a regular basis.

Google Guide Joel described the issue before the recent rollout and snafu: “This is how our system works by design. Businesses that are the same address / location are merged. In general, it’s the right thing to do. However, we’ll take your concern as feedback. We want to improve these systems and are actively looking at doing this in the right way. In the meantime, there’s no way to force an immediate fix to the issue.”

For some, Google Maps has become the ultimate Kafka like nightmare of late, as Google is now merging records between nearby competitors just because they are in close proximity to each other. Apparently the merging algorithm has changed and Google is now merging records that have nothing in common other than being in the same map sector and a similar business profile.

One of the owners of a recently merged records was from a Doctor’s office and noted the following: “Google merged the records for Dr John G Moe and Dr Kenneth Landis and this almost led to a tragic patient outcome this weekend. An emergency room doctor from Kansas tried to contact Dr. Moe to see if a certain drug could be given to our patient. Since the patient was unable to give the ER our phone number, the googled Dr John G Moe. Since Google linked our record, the saw the phone number for Dr Landis and left a message on his answering machine and since he wasn’t on call that weekend, we didn’t learn of the problem until much later”.

Here are some graphic examples of this behavior:
Continue reading Google Maps: Manic Merging of Business Listings due to Algo Change

State Attorney General to AT&T: Remove Illegal Locksmith Listings at Yellowpages.com

Legitimate locksmith’s have been attempting to convince authorities to pursue the illegetimate locksmiths for several years. They seem to have achieved a high profile success in Missouri where the State Attorney General is filing suit against one of the Florida companies behind a significant amount of the mapspam. In addition, the Attorney General “has also taken steps to get AT&T to remove the company’s ads from “The Real Yellow Pages” and www.yellowpages.com”.

From the KCTV5 website that broke the story locally:

“Clearly the Yellow Pages has made lots of money off of this,” said Koster.

The state is suing Dependable Locks Inc., out of Florida, a company accused of flooding the phone book with dozens of company aliases and hundreds of phone numbers.

And the attorney general’s office has given the AT&T Yellow Pages five business days to shut off hundreds of phone numbers linked to the fraudulent companies.

The Attorney General’s listing of related companies had a familiar ring to it and many are still present in Google’s index. “The following are the alternate business names used by Dependable Locks, Inc.”:

–A#1 24 Hour Locksmith
–A 24 Hour Locksmith
–AAA 24 & 7 Day Locksmith
–A Always Available 24 Hour Locksmith
–A Emergency A Locksmith
–A Locksmith Always 24 Hour
–A Locksmith A 1-24 Hour
–A Locksmith 00 24 Hour
–A Locksmith O Always 24 Hour
–A Locksmith Service 24 Hour
–A Locksmith 24 Hour Emergency
–A Locksmith
–A Kansas City #1 Emergency Locksmith
–24 Hour A Locksmith at St. Louis
–24 Hour A Locksmith
–0 24 Hour Locksmith

As Glenn Y(who alerted me to the above story, thanks) noted in a recent comment on my post Google Maps vs Locksmith Spammers: Spammers winning: “Every person who counts on internet search has a dog in this fight. SEO professionals will need to get involved with the solution, or lose their ability to positively effect search for their customers. This is not about locksmiths, it’s about fraud and search.”

Here is the press conference that has some interesting detail:

Google Maps Data Quality: Where do we stand after the Locksmith Onslaught?

I have written extensively about the hijinks in the Locksmith industry and the impact that the massive amount of mapspam was having on the Maps Index quality. Google noted that they had fixed the vector in January and another in March. Google however, when they fix a technical iisue like Mapspam rarely if ever seems to go back and clean up the resultant pollution in the index. It really begs the question: What does fixed mean?

One of the many tactics that the Locksmith industry used was to hijack unclaimed records in other industries (like hotels & restaurants) that had large numbers of web citations and reviews to achieve ranking cred for themselves. Over the past 6 weeks I have received various reports of these listings still showing up in the Local 10 Packs and spotting some myself as aI meandered through Maps.

David Mihm, Local SEO in Portland, sent me an example of a hijacked restaurant listing showing up for the search Restaurant Portland. We quickly (less than 10 minutes each) found 10 additional high profile searches that still are showing the affect of being hijacked by locksmiths. Literally one of every two searches in major metro areas showed polluted results. One can only presume what a thorough review might find. A motivated locksmith discovered that in the Maps records of locksmiths for the top 50 metro areas in California, he found 60,000 spammy locksmith listings.

boston-rest-pollution

Here are the searches that included obviously hijacked listings:

Restaurant Albuquerque
Restaurant Salt Lake City
Restaurant Atlanta
Restaurant Kansas City
Restaurant Tampa
Restaurant Nashville – a new one, towing
Restaurant Boston
Restaurant Miami
Restaurant Phoenix

Local data is hard enough to get accurate when all the players are honest and focused on that goal. However, leaving this detritus in the index takes the quality to a new low. As I noted in a previous post, when the plumbing breaks you don’t just seal the leak in the pipe you clean up the mess from the broken sewage pipe.

It is time for Google to give the records back to the rightful owners and provide the quality user experience that they so often reference as their standard.
24hr-rest-boston

Developing Knowledge about Local Search