Maps in times of trouble

Internet usage in general, goes up during disasters. A large number of internet searches quickly follow catastrophes and major world events. Google, for example, reported that searches for news-related sites increased 60 times over normal levels on September 11. The London bombings in July 2005 showed a similar search peak according to the Google Zeitgeist for 2005.

In Google Trends there appears to be similar peaks in maps searches during these crises as well. It is probably safe to infer that there was dramatically increased map usage as well when the catastrophe was location based.

Search: London Map, Paris Map

Search: Madrid Map

The peaks are very short lived, lasting one or the most two days:

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Google fixing lost “saved locations” problem in Maps

There have been numerous reports in the Google Maps Troubleshooting Group over the past few days of missing locations in Maps. Here’s Sparky description the problem:

I’m an avid user of Google Maps, and have between 50 and 100 saved locations, that auto-complete when I type in the search box, in addition to being able to edit them using the arrow link to the right of the search box. 

As late as last Friday the 7th of November, I was using my saved locations to get directions, etc.  This evening, I clicked a “Map This” link from GMail to add another saved location, and it was the only one present in the list.  I was using Firefox 3 at the time, and have since closed out, and signed back in, both with Firefox 3 and IE 6, but much to my dismay, the only location available is the one that I just clicked on from the e-mail.  My default location is no longer set, and none of the old ones appear, even when using the “Edit Saved Locations” link by the search box. Also, the “Save locations automatically” box is still, and always has been, checked for me. 

Google has acknowledged the problem and promised a fix in an email sent this morning by Maps Guide Mike:

We’re currently fixing a problem that has caused some people to lose
access to their saved locations (addressbook) data. The data should be
accessible again shortly – our sincere apologies for this outage.

Microsoft Azure catches Google’s PlusBox Blues

Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing initiative, is at the moment vaporware, more ideas and flows charts than a product. Perhaps the reason for its yet unfinished status is that the office is but a corner table at a cafe in Freeport, ME.

Or at least according to the Google PlusBox, that is the case. When you  search for Microsoft Azure on Google, the PlusBox for the Microsoft Azure Website takes you to the Azure Cafe, near the L.L. Bean store. It may be terrible for Microsoft’s productivity but it is great for morale and lunch breaks are a snap!

Reader Maarten Oosterink caught this example of Google’s mistake in their PlusBox assignments and pointed it out to me. As I told Maarten, the PlusBox is a weird beast algorithmically. It predates the Local Business Center and relies on signals from across the web that Google uses to assign it to a search result, often times erroneously. This is great example of exactly how weird and error prone can at times be.

Fixing a erroneous PlusBox is no simple matter as Google offers no formal mechanism for correcting their mistaken assignment. Continue reading

Local Links of Interest

Dr. Larry Cornett on Universal & Blended Search – Manoj Jasra, WebProNews

A brief but interesting interview with Yahoo and how they view universal search and how they plan to gain leverage in the search market.

Argentina Finally has Street Maps - Google Maps Mania

A long time in coming but Argentina’s major cities now have Maps

Fighting Traffic Jams With Data - Roger Cheng, WSJ.com

An interesting piece on cars as both clients and peers in networks that utilize the automobile as a source of data. One researcher describes a technique to use iPhones and a new, quicker way to attach to Wifi networks to provide real time traffic info.

Google iPhone Voice Search – It’s All About the Ads - Michael Gray, SEOBlog

While everyone is fawning over Google for releasing a useful app (yahoo and microsoft should take notice), the part that everyone is missing is, this is all part of larger strategy to get people more comfortable with mobile and voice searches. Once google has achieved that goal, be prepared for more mobile advertising.

TIVO Delivers: Local Ads

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Tivo was now offering up the ability to order a Domino’s Pizza from your couch. Apparently the pizza offer pops up if you fast forward thru a Domino’s advertisement (that will teach you).

You can choose pickup or home delivery via a simple pop up screen. If you can convince the delivery man to hand the pizza through your living room window, there will be no need to step off of the couch prior to devouring your snack. 

Last February, after seeing the AppleTV2 at MacWorld, I noted that Apple had the perfect local ad delivery system in place. It struck me that Apple already had all of the elements in AppleTV2 that would make for compelling local ad delivery: location awareness, attentive audience, knowledge about tastes & interests, a credit card on hand (just one click away), demographic information and a recent patent filing for delivering contextual advertising.

Seems Tivo has beaten them to the  the pizza.

New Google Toolbar Map Gadget – all maps all the time

Some of us are Map junkies. Now we can have all Maps all the time. You can experience your fix without needing to leave whatever site you are browsing at the moment with a newly announced Google Maps gadget for use on the  Google Toolbar 5 (for Internet Explorer or Firefox).

The gadget sits neatly tucked away until you click on the compass in your tool bar at which point a map pops out that allows you to do a local search and get directions.

Google Maps – Still Loading Slow? Try HTML

My family lives out in the country. There are deer, turkey and bears wandering through our front yard. Even though we live in the boonies we are only 10 minutes from my office in Olean, 90 minutes from Buffalo, 3 hours from Toronto and only 5.5 hours from NY City. We have the best of both worlds with one exception. 

We still have dial up. Not 56k dial-up, but end of the phone line, crackling 23k baud on a good day, dial-up. 

Web 2.0 sites are problematic at best and many new sites take forever and a day if they decide to load. Given the general movement towards more complex sites, a number of sites end up being completely off limits to us. Satellite is not really an option, DSL and cable are not available. 

It is interesting that Google Maps, even with their blue line upgrade, seems to know that I have problems viewing Maps and automatically offers up their HTML version on days when the telephone lines are weighted with snow (like today)…

When I select the HTML view, I get the Text view (same as the business listing view) with a small map that loads quickly even at my todays 20k baud:

This faster loading view can be accessed at any time by adding the command &output=html to your query and you can use it as a starting point with the url: http://maps.google.com/maps?output=html. This offers up a simple, single query field look much like Google.com.

A relatively complete list of other Google Map query parameters can can be viewed at this mapki.com page for those of you that really want to dig in.

Will Mashups be threatened by Google’s Map API TOS?

Update 11/17/08 9:00 pm: The BBC has chimed in with an excellent summary of the issues at in the battle between the OS and Google. Google apparently called the BBC: to stress that they believe Ordnance Survey has misrepresented its terms and conditions. They say that when we hand over data to Google Maps, they are not claiming ownership of that information, just the right to crawl it and use it for marketing purposes. I’m not sure that will settle the row. Well if that’s the case I wonder then why don’t they just change the TOS?

Why is Britain’s OS and the British mapping community in an uproar over the Google Maps TOS and why should you care?

In this battle of acrimonious acronyms, the Google Maps Terms of Service is being called into question and it highlights significant problems with Google’s Map API TOS that can affect all of us. The conflict also highlights the difficulties that a government agency confronts when it is asked to perform like a business.

Regardless, it certainly is affecting the future of all API mashups in England particularly those in the public sector that use the British Government’s Ordnance Survey (OS) data.

For example, it means the police are breaking the law (according to the OS) for their Google Map based crime maps, because they use OS boundaries.

There have been calls for the management of OS to resign and calls to consider stop using Google’s API by mappers. All in all, its quite a mess.

Should a for profit entity be allowed to profit from government data for free?

Should a government agency restrict use of public data?
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Classmates.com User Sues – Should Merchant Circle worry?

According to Wired.com, Anthony Michaels received an email last December from Classmates.com advising him that his former classmates were trying to contact him. He proceeded to upgrade to the premium Classmates.com  membership so that he might contact his long lost school mates. But Michaels learned that no one that he knew was actually trying to contact him, He is claiming in his class action law suit, that it was a deceptive scam. The suit, brought in San Diego, was filed by Kabateck, Brown and Kellner.

I was struck by the similarities of Classmates.com’s tactics to those frequently used by Merchant Circle. There have been a number of writers (John BatelleMatt McGee,  Greg Sterling & myself) and readers critical of Merchant Circle’s tactics. Matt’s post from September of 2006 is of interest because every time MC cranks up a questionable marketing practice, the comments start flowing in. The comments section on that post now has 132 comments and most of them are quite recent. 

As the Wired article points out, the limited budgets of the states’ Attorney Generals have limited their action in dealing with deceptive advertising and “that leaves class action attorneys on the front line of technology in the consumer area.”

Update: Miriam Ellis of Solas Design has a related post on deceptive marketing practices on Yelp in the SF area: SMBs Say Yuck To Yelp’s Telemarketers

Local Links of Interest

Why Wikipedia Accuracy Won’t Cut It For Google Local - Miriam Ellis, Searchengineguide.com

A great summary of the contradictions that Google Maps faces between its supposedly wiki nature and the reality of local business listings. Google, by not prioritizing record accuracy in Local, has created a less than ideal platform for local in many ways. Read Miriam’s take on why wiki won’t work in the weal world. 

Hesitating Over a Smartphone’s Price? It Could Save You Money - Bob Tedeschi, NY Times

I am always amazed when a writer checks his intelligence at the door when writing about technology. The premise of the article is that you should buy a Smartphone like the G1 or the iPhone so that you can save all that money on your future purchases with real time, on site shopping comparison tools like ShopSavvy. Well when I do the math, I can spend $200 on an iPhone and $20/mo more than I can currently spending on a data plan so I can save 10% on my next purchase. It seems like an expensive way to save money to me. Seems like the self delusional rationalization of consumerism to me.

Mobile Speed Trap Mapping with iPhone - Virtual Earth, An Evangelist’s Blog from Microsoft

Check out the feature list:
•Speech notification of Speed Traps based on current moving direction, speed of the driver, and distance to closest point
•Microsoft Virtual Earth display of Speed Traps 

Now this is product that would allow me to embrace some self delusional rationalization of my own. I get enough speeding tickets in a year to pay for an iPhone several times over. Hmm, I suppose I could slow down.

MeetWays - I found this little gem in a Google Geo Developers Blog Post post on reverse geocoding. It’s a site that mashes up the Google AJAX Local Search API with the Google Maps API and just a bit of math. It calculates the point between two addresses on the map, uses the reverse geocoder to find out the address for that point, and then does a local search near that address to find places to meet that are halfway between. The upshot? You can meet your friends halfway and know what’s nearby. 

Eagerly Awaiting Google’s Voice Search For The iPhone - Greg Sterling, SearchEngineLand

Most of you have already read about this new Google initiative to allow searching of the Google index via voice. For those of you that don’t have an iPhone, but would like some sense of what a single field voice search is like try the recently upgraded Goog-411.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search