Local and Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (via Greg Sterling) is moving from the area of research and into reality. Layar is releasing an augmented reality browser. From their web site:

The World’s First Augmented Reality Browser. Layar is a free application on your mobile phone which shows you what is around you by displaying real time digital information on top of reality though the camera of the mobile phone.

Layar will be available for the T-Mobile G1, HTC Magic and other Android phones in Android Market before July 1st 2009.

How do you use Layar?

By holding the phone in front of you like a camera information is displayed on top of the camera display view.

For all points of interest which are displayed on the screen, information is shown at the bottom of the screen.

This is the ultimate “local” technology as reality and the interface are intimately tied together. As Greg points out this type of system needs the data to provide value and in some arenas that may be a ways off. But it is not hard to imagine it working now with Trulia type information or Google’s business listings in a real time Streetview type environment. To get an idea of how this will play out on your mobile computer (ie your phone) watch this video.

Google Maps: Spammers find a way

The Google Local Business Center has a number of limits that it imposes on mere mortals and small business people. For example you can only legitimately have 5 categories. Another is that the description of your business can only contain 200 characters (about 30 words).

One then has to marvel at the craftiness of the spammers that manage to overcome these limits, one way or another. In this example of Toronto Locksmith Spam (sent along by PureShear) this “business owner” managed to fit 5609 characters under the details tab by keyword stuffing the Additional Details fields in the LBC ad nauseum. That amounts to 787 more words than is seen in the typical listing as most listers don’t add very many Additional Details.

The spammer managed to secure a 3rd place listing in the very spammy Toronto Locksmith 10 Pack results with but one citation. Clearly, in any category where the spammers are currently operating, an honest lister doesn’t have a chance.


What not to do when you visit Mountain View

When I have time on my hands I ponder the big questions in life.

A recent one that popped to mind was whether Google Maps business listings for Mountain View were more spam free than elsewhere. Do the folks at Google do a ground check to see if reality and Maps are at all in sync? Do they look out the window of the corner suite and check whether the listing across the road is correct? Do they have to eat their own dog food?

I won’t leave you in suspsense. Spam is just as bad in Mountain View as any place. In fact it might just be worse.

Good Hotel In Mountain View:
Clean Hotel in Moutain View:
Locksmith Mt. View Ca.:


The measles map view: Continue reading What not to do when you visit Mountain View

Mapquest Adds MapQuest 4 Mobile for iPhone

Sometimes when you get in a car, you are struck by the convenience and utility. You just know that the engineer that designed not just is a good engieer but that she/he loves cars and thinks about how they should be used.

Last week, Mapquest showed me the just released MapQuest 4 Mobile for iPhone and it struck me much the same way. While I have not yet used the final release product (available for download at the iTunes Store ) if it lives up to the demo it will rapidly become the mapping tool of choice for iPhone users. You can read about the full details at their blog.

The product offers a full blown mapping and business listing environment that is intuitive and easy to use. It fully integrates with their on-line product so a trip can be created either on line or in the iPhone and be readily available to either device. The interface allows for simple drag and drop reordering of stops on the Maps and an intuitive way to access common points of interest.

The feature that allows either a list view of driving directions or a full screen landscape view is particularly elegant. The enlargement puts one directions and a meaning graphic on the full screen and allows for a simple swipe to get to the next direction.

Unlike their on-line mapping product, the new iPhone tool puts the user experience front and center without the clutter of Mapquest’s many advertising partners taking top billing. They have included these partners in a contextually relevant way that adds to the user experience rather than detracting from it.

Obviously, Mapquest is in a battle for market share with Maps. This iPhone app will certainly be a reason for those already using Mapquest to stick with the service. But will it attract new Mapquest users? And will it bring those users to the website?

This product, even though not the default Map product on the iPhone, is good enough to do it. Certainly as a stand alone iPhone app it will generate buzz. Whether the web integration is enough to draw wayward users back to the Mapquest web fold remains to be seen.

GoogleBase and Local Business Center experiment to encourage more LBC participation?

Yesterday Google announced at the GoogleBase blog that they’ve “begun experimenting with exposing store locations in Google Product Search…. We think this will help users find nearby store locations, and help merchants get foot traffic into their stores” (thanks to Peter Wyspianski for pointing this out).

Google is inviting existing GoogleBase users to submit their local business locations to the LBC either manually or via bulk upload. If it is done via Bulk they are asking that the business fill out this form to help them associate the Local Business Center data with the correct Google Base account.

It is not clear whether Google plans on showing inventory data in Maps any time soon but do seem to be planning to correlate product information with related local store locations in GoogleBase. Has anyone seen this search result in the wild?

Google LBC Dashboard: Impressions of Impressions and Actions

picture-101I was curious to get an overview of dashboard information to understand both the value of Google’s new Local Business Center Dashboard and to attempt to quantify the value of a Local Universal search placement. I have summarzied impressions, actions and the details of actions for 31 of the Dashboards that I have access to.

On average 6.12% of impressions amongst these 31 businesses generated actions of one sort or another.

The highest total impressions and the highest action rate was 12.9% for a jewelry business in a midsize city (280,000 pop) that advertises heavily on radio and televsion. Over 50% of the actions in her account were for driving directions which I assume is the “recovery” part of the transaction. By that I mean the searcher knew who they were looking for and were now interested in visiting her location.  21% of those who took action “clicked for more info” and 28% clicked through to the website.

On average 36% of total actions across all dashboards were clicks for more info on Maps, 24% were for driving directions and 40% resulted in website visits.

There was some correlation between market size and total impressions. However popular industry search segments like restaurants and real estate did relatively well even in very small markets. Unfortunately I don’t have access to numbers for any given market segment across multiple market sizes.

It is not clear from the dashboard whether a given user that clicked for more information within Maps also took another action. If we assume that all of the actions were discreet (not necessarily an accurate assumption) than 60% of the actions taken would not show up in your web analytics.

Last year, Steve Espinosa published some provacative statistics that indicated that a first place organic ranking generated 1.6 times as many web visits as a Local 10 Pack listing. The Dashboard numbers suggest that non web visit actions are 50% higher than web visits putting the relative merits of a Local 10 Pack listing on parity with a #1 Organic Listing.

Obviously these numbers are not perfect as they do not account for either untracked actions like phone calls or double tracked actions by the same searcher taking two actions but they do give a general idea of the range of results that one might see in typical business.

I would love to know what folks are seeing in their dasboards as to total impressions, actions and action breakdowns. Let me know.

Google Details Information Sources for the Business Listing “Cluster”

sbts5zh63suzozrslmzjtrgToday in the announcement section of the Google Help forums Google has published a simplified view of where their business listing information comes from. The details as to how this actually functions were covered by Bill Slawsky in his review of the patent, Generating structured information, filed in early 2006. 

In the recent announcement Google notes the following mechanisms and sources for the listing data noted in the schematic:

As many of you know, a local listing is often created by including data from multiple sources. We do our best to give attribution to the data appearing on a local listing. Here’s a rundown of our main sources of data and how it appears in a listing:

LBC: Local Business Center. Information submitted and verified as individual listings appears with the label Provided by business owner. Also, some feeds are submitted through the LBC.

YP: Yellow Pages. This describes information we get from public directories created and licensed from 3rd parties. In some areas, we provide attribution at the bottom of a list of results (e.g., business listings distributed by YellowPages.ca™).

EC: Enhanced Content, which can include reviews, photos, business hours, payment methods, and other details. This is provided to us via feeds from other websites. If this information is coming from a published web page, a link will be provided.

UGC + WEB: User Generated Content & other websites. Both these sources are either submitted to Google directly or crawled, just like other websearch results. If the content is hosted on a website, we’ll provide a link. Otherwise, you’ll see a Provided by Google users label that shows it was submitted using our community features.

This newly posted information essentially mirrors the details of the 2006 patent . I will detail, in the next day or two, how this “clsutering” technology leads to Google’s issues with merging business records in the index. 

Twitter and Me


The two Davids, among others, have been encouraging me to join the Twitter community and I have done so, with some trepidation, under the user name @mblumenthal.

Who do you follow in the Local space and why? What kinds of information do you find most valuable?

Margaret Shulock publishes her comics individually and as one of the SixChix, a group of 6 women that write a single comic strip that is syndicated by Kings Feature. She lives down the road and the above cartoon was used with her permission. You can read more about her work at the SixChix Blog.

Google Maps: Category Mapspam

category-spam2Google recently revised their listing guidelines for Maps. They specifically added several sections on appropriate category use.

Why? Well because while you and I are stressing over the details like legitimate business naming practices to comply with the guidelines, the spammers long ago went after the long tail of category search very aggressively to maximize ranking benefit. Here are the specific sections of the new Google Listing Guidelines relating to categories:

When entering categories, use only those that directly describe your business. Do not submit related categories that do not define your business. For example, a taxi company might properly categorize itself as “Airport Transportation”, but it would be inaccurate to also use the category “Airport”.

Also, please use each category field to enter a single category. Do not list multiple categories or keywords in one field.

Use the description and custom attribute fields to include additional information about your listing. This type of content should never appear in your business’s title, address or category fields.

If you look at the search results in Maps (Clean Hotels NY NY) to the left you will see that most listings seemed to have engaged in some form of category abuse.

The “Chem-Dry Cleaners” results provide an incredible visual of field stuffing. Obviously the field length limits are quite high and while it should be easy to recognize the stuffing upon data entry in the LBC, Google seems to have not yet done so.

One can presume that the “Good Hotel” folks, listing spam in its own right from affiliate spammers reservationcounter.com, have used the phrase “clean hotel” as a category. 

To a large extent category spam has flown under the radar as it is usually the out of sight, out of mind kind of spam and it  is a little harder to spot by someone without more access to the index.

Why Google shows some category listings and not always others is not totally clear. It seems that the category information shows up when the algo is not positive that the result belongs in the result due to the ambiguity of search intent.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search