Google Maps: Don’t get pregnant in Wellsville

Sometimes Google Maps just gets it wrong. It is a large and complex system where a single switched byte makes all the difference. 

For whatever reason if you do a search on Pregnancy Testing Wellsville , it wants to send you off to Amsterdam NY for your appointment, 265 miles away. While Wellsvile is rural, it is in western NY near Corning and not anywhere near Herkimer, Saratoga Springs or Cobbleskill. This quirk shows up on any search using the locale Wellsville whether you search on Tuxedos in Wellsville or Flowers. It could make for one very expensive prom date.  

Pregnancy testing Wellsville results in google

A search on the similar term, Pregnancy Testing Wellsville NY returns accurate results. What is odd is that the results screen above indicates that the listings are for Wellsville NY but none are.

In the end, I don’t suppose that Google has it in for pregnant teens any more than they hate Advertising Agencies. I do though, think that as Google Maps gets more tightly integrated into the fabric of our daily lives, it is necessary for Google to fix these sorts of quirks quickly. Unfortunately, someday an unsuspecting user, in a life threatening situation, will be searching for an emergency room or hospital and be sent in the wrong direction and to a disastrous outcome.

PS – In an unplanned, related development (as they say), Miriam Ellis reports on her disastrous medical searching experience using Google Maps while seriously ill…

Google Responds to Microsoft Hijacking

Google responded via the comment section to the Microsoft Hijacking:
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(cross-posted to Danny Sullivan at http://searchengineland.com/google-local-business-hijacking-microsoft-acquires-yahoo-becomes-escort-service-15313.php)

Hi Mike,

We appreciate your continued efforts to help us identify spam on Google Maps. The wiki nature of Google Maps expands upon Google’s steadfast commitment to open community. That said, we also work very hard internally to identify behavior that doesn’t benefit the community and to take the appropriate actions. We look forward to more and more users getting involved to help us keep Google Maps fresh and accurate.

As you know, mapspam is a difficult problem to tackle – in many ways, more difficult than webspam. Some of these scams go far beyond maps [see this ABC News Story on Locksmith scams]. We take mapspam very seriously and we are working on it, in consultation with our webspam team. While some of the changes we’ve made so far have been less visible, we’re confident that we’re on the right path to effectively reducing mapspam. We think you’ve already recognized that there isn’t an overnight fix.

Please keep the feedback coming, including the direct reports of spam on Maps.

The Google Team
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The complexities of YP listing management in the Google Age

I have often noted in the past how managing a business listing has gone from expensive to free but from simple to complicated. It used to be a simple matter of paying the Yellowpage salesman to correct this or change that. But now the path to getting it corrected is much, much more complicated. 

I get emails from around the world from small business people asking for help with Maps. I recently received this comment pleading for assistance in a previous post on How to change your Business Address in the Internet Age:

We have a listing on GoogleMaps (Jupiter Counseling), and the other day I visited it and there was a link someone not affiliated with us placed under our weblinks to the Qigong Institute, and she listed herself as being at our address and teaching Qigong and being a “Law of Attraction Counselor”, and we cannot get it removed.  The people at Google have been unwilling to help us, and they hang up on me, refusing to get me to a supervisor or technical support.  Anyone know what I can or should do?  This information is damaging to our business.  I can’t get an answer from anyone as to what to do.  Thank you.  Please send answer to amuseink@aol.com.

Here is the answer that I emailed him …
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Hey I resemble that remark

Coverage of my shenanigans vìs-a-vìs Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps has been wider than just the search industry. Regardless, a number of writers have ascribed intentions and feelings to me that seem to drift toward the dramatic and away from reality.

From the Silicon Alley Insider: “An angry small business advocate has his revenge”. and “Mike Blumenthal, who’s been covering the topic obsessively,”. Well obsessive maybe but angry?

From SeoRoundtable: “I guess he got sick of covering the issues and not much being done about stopping it. He decided to do something a bit extreme. He hijacked Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps and made them a Microsoft Escort Service. He also messed around with profiles, here is one example:” To defend my honor, it was Danny that messed around with profiles. I did everything under my public profile and no, it isn’t SBrin. And anyways, “a bit extreme” is roughly akin to sort of pregnant.

I liked Danny’s read on the effort in SEL: Mike Blumenthal has been diligently covering how local listings can be hijacked in Google Maps. He’s also been frustrated that Google doesn’t seem to be fixing the local hijacking problem. Although even the word frustration ascribes an emotion that I don’t actually feel.

I think Hyped.nl in Holland captured it best when he said: “Grapjas maakt van Microsoft een escort service” which translated in Google Maps to: Funny makes Microsoft an escort service. Martijn where are you when I need you ?

For those writers that actually care about my motivations and feelings, it comes from a passion for Local, a desire to know all that I can know. While I do empathize with small business folks, having been one for many years, I really just want local to be all that it can be (is it ok to use that Army clichè here?) and not just another cesspool of illicit blowhard marketing. I think Google has the best chance of taking local to the promised land, but and this is a big but, only if they put integrity of local data at the top of their list.

A bit extreme? Angry? Obsessive? Hrmph! As Curley used to say I resemble that remark

Ultimately, for me the questions are: Did my “prank”, help or hurt Local? Did I cross some ethical boundary? Let me know what you think!

Google Voter Information Tool Goes Mobile

Mobile Voter Information from Google

Google’s Voter Information Tool has gone mobile. From the official Google Blog:

With the U.S. elections less than a week away, voting drives are ramping up. Political parties and non-partisan groups alike are sending out volunteers to encourage citizens to vote on November 4. To make sure these volunteers have the same voter info tools available to them on their phone as on their computer, we’ve now launched a mobile voting locator tool on m.google.com/elections. (Click here to send this to your phone.)

It is nice to see that this tool works on new smartphones as well as on older not-so-smart phones like my ancient Nokia 3650. Good Job Google!

Local Business Center Backend being updated

From google Maps at 5:00 pm EST:

The Google Local Business Center is unavailable for the next hour
We appreciate your patience as we perform some routine system maintenance.

More specifically, we’re updating ‘the backend’ (to employ that catchy, catchall moniker coined and lent to us by engineering folks who work on all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes but know we communications folks can’t very well say ‘We’re updating all of the technical fiddly bits behind the scenes’ and expect you, an enlightened Google user, to take us seriously or at least not wonder aloud ‘ Wait, what sort of bits were those again?’).

So please check back in sixty minutes. Maybe less, considering the time you’ve invested in deciphering this message.

Microsoft’s listing in Google Maps Hijacked (oops by me)

Last week I spoke with Marc from podestabaldocchi.com, one of the florists in San Francisco that was hijacked in mid September in Google Maps. Two things struck me in the conversation.

The first was that he estimated that his business was off 30% for the weeks of the hijacking. That is a significant number that demonstrates the power that Google has conferred on local search. Research indicates that users are going to the internet for the their local buying information and Google is leading that charge. Businesses have benefited from Google’s prominent placement of local results on the main results page.

The second comment that struck me, was that he felt he only had himself to blame for not claiming the record. He noted that if he had claimed it, none of this would have happened. Of course, he added, he didn’t even know that he had a record in Google Maps but he was learning fast as to how to control it. That hit an odd note for me.


Every small business thinks that if they could only operate like the IBMs, Microsofts or Apples of the world, they would have their act together on these new marketing angles. If like, IBM et al, Podesta Baldocchi were on top of these details they could have prevented this hijacking.

I wondered if that was in fact the case so I decided to see if some of the major Fortune 500 companies had in fact claimed their records and avoided the possibility of hijackings. Microsoft came to mind first. I grabbed one of their listings in Redmond and was able to change the location, url and their business name. Microsoft even managed to gather a spammy review in its short life as an escort service :). Out of a sense of fair play, I changed it back although Google has not yet done so. I wasn’t sure that that Microsoft or Google would appreciate my sense of humor.

So I randomly checked elsewhere in the technology arena to see who else might be susceptible…..
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How long does it take to fix an map data error?

Miriam at Solasdesign has been doing a series of blog posts about the process of updating erroneous underlying map data from TeleAtlas and Navteq. Miriam’s client had a business on a street in Hayward, Wisconsin that was not shown in Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo or MSN. Currently Navteq provides map data to MapQuest, Yahoo and MSN while TeleAtlas provides it to Google Maps.

Today she posted about an actual phone conversation with Mapquest where they clarified the timeframe for NavTeq to get the underlying data fixed:

On a quarterly basis, Navteq sends out drivers (yes, actual drivers in cars) to problem areas that have been reported and they can then update their data with the correct information the drivers collect.

The not-so-great news is that this a long queue process and by the time the data gets corrected by NavTeq (for our client’s town this will be in Navteq’s Jan-March 1st quarter of the year, based upon the time we reported the error), and the corrected data gets sent out to entities like MapQuest, MSN or Yahoo! who are using Navteq data, we would be looking at resolution coming no earlier than May-June of 2009. That’s a long time to wait, but at least we’ve been given a goal to look forward to. I can’t overstate the value of that.

Google switched to using TeleAtlas in a mid September timeframe. The reports of serious underlying map data problems have poured into Google Groups since that time. Miriam first reported this mapping problem to Google shortly after October 18th. How long will it take for the corrections to wind their way into Google Maps?
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Google Map’s spam fighting efforts- if graded?

My son just got his progress report in school and I am proud to say that he got very good grades. It wasn’t always that way, and in fact last year he spent most of the time either on restrictions or with extra chores. He has grown up a lot over the past 6 months and I have to give him credit. It seemed as if I was going to struggle with him for his whole high school career as he “lost” one homework assignment after the next or only “remembered” to finish half of the assignment. I guess there is hope for him after all. In fact more than hope. I am incredibly proud of him.

I am not so sanguine about Google’s chances in fighting mapspam. But it is that time of year so I thought I would offer up a grade.

The recent cases of florist and brand hijackings were some of the most egregious examples of spam that I had seen in a while. I wanted to review Google’s record in dealing with it.

Some 45 or so unsuspecting floral businesses and a number of other national chain locations had revenue diverted (stolen?) when their unclaimed listings were modified via community edits to redirect to an affiliate fulfillment house. One florist, in a large market that I spoke with, noted that his revenue was down 30% for the several weeks that he fell victim to the attack.

That is a large number and it had to hurt. He finally, with the help of Google, regained control of his listing, reappeared in the 10-Pack and all was good. Google, while not preventing the attack, did respond to his pleas in the group and elsewhere.

The trail of the hijackers though was quite clear. A few “community editors” did most of the dirty work of changing the florists, car rental agencies and hotels to their benefit. Google’s community edit system, while woefully insecure, does leave a large footprint. Without the right tools, it takes hours to ferret out the culprits, but their deeds are there for the world to see. With the right tools, it would have taken but a few minutes to track them down and delete their handiwork.

So in determining Google’s grade, with the help of some florists, I went back to review listings that were hijacked and determine their status. Google, for reasons only they know, has not changed many hijacked listings back to the original owners.
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Developing Knowledge about Local Search