Google Maps inadvertently steps into political mine field & back out again

On August 8th, this post (and several just like it) appeared in the Help Forums:

Hi

I am on Google maps and i was aghast to see that the north eastern state Arunachal Pradesh is projected as not part of India!! Infact, the names are being shown in Chinese. This is blatant violation of India’s national view and I am apalled to see Google toe the Chinese line despite being supported hugely by a democratic literate India.

A number of Indians work at Google and despite this, Google seems to care little for Indian sentiments. Google should correct this anamoly immediately.

Yesterday the Google LatLong blog addressed the issue and the fix:

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 6:20 PM

Recently, as part of a routine data update to maps.google.com, we inadvertently added Chinese language names to some locations in Arunachal Pradesh that were previously unlabeled or labeled with English language Indian place names.

The data was published accidentally in an unintended form. As soon as we discovered this, we reverted maps.google.com back to its original state. We’d like to make it clear that we at no point meant to indicate support for one country’s view over another.

Posted by Gabriel Stricker, Director, Search Communications

Mapping all of the world’s information has a way of becoming political very quickly. Which language should be used to describe an area? What are the actual boundaries? Who is in control now and who was last week? The world is a dynamic place and for better or worse when you map it, it becomes a static representation of the point of view of the mapper. Mapping by its nature forces the creator to take a postion that is often at odds with a large population with a valid point of view.

Even the way that a map is laid out can create false impressions that affect our sense of reality. For example it is little understood by many that the commonly used Mercator projection, used in Google Maps, “like all map projections that attempt to fit a curved surface onto a flat sheet, the shape of the map is a distortion of the true layout of the Earth’s surface. The Mercator projection exaggerates the size of areas far from the equator“.

As a recent poster in the forums noted that this projection “distorts the world, giving the false impression that Greenland is the size of South America, Asia is ginormous and Alaska is bigger than Mexico – all inaccuracies that are being presented by Google. Google’s reputation for accuracy means that these distortions are reinforced in our conscience as facts”.

So why does Google use the Mercator Projection despite its flaws? Because it works for what Google is trying to do.

Hi John – Thanks for the feedback. Maps uses Mercator because it preserves angles.  The first launch of Maps actually did not use Mercator, and streets in high latitude places like Stockholm did not meet at right angles on the map the way they do in reality. While this distorts a ‘zoomed-out view’ of the map, it allows close-ups (street level) to appear more like reality. The majority of our users are looking down at the street level for businesses, directions, etc… so we’re sticking with this projection for now. In the meantime, you might want to look at our favorite 3D view of the world.

Google Proactively Communicates with LBC Users- a first baby step in dealing with SMBs?

I recently received two of the email newsletters from the Local Business Center that Google announced several days ago. The first was titled Update from your Google Local Business Center Account The Latest from your Google Local Business Center Account and included the newsletter plus the following July stats from one of the many businesses in my LBC account.

lbc-july-stats

This Google effort at outreach to the businesses using the Local Business Center is a positive thing. It will, without being too cloying, drive businesses back to the LBC more frequently and help with their on-going education and understanding of the new reality of local listings.

Historically Google has treated smb’s with such a hands off approach and with so little feedback that there has been a growing discontent with Google’s aloofness that shows up frequently in the Help Forums. Google, in their effort to scale and automate local, has seemed less than empathetic to the business that has a problem with either the LBC, their listing or just a plain lack of understanding about this complex new reality that is local. This carelessness has been present in everything from their error messages, to bugs in the LBC, the help forums and on into a cavalier approach to bogus reviews.

This email communication is a positive first step in an outward facing marketing campaign. But it is just that, a first step and like all marketing is a monologue and not a dialogue. Google will need to refine everything from their error messages to the workings of the “cluster” to improve the smb Google Local experience. And in the end they will need to not just listen to smbs but actually talk to them if they don’t want to anger every Mom & Pop from here to Wasilla.

Google Maps: Where did the LBC stats go?

The new stats in the Local Business Center leave a bit to be desired. Apparently though they are better than no stats as many outside the US, which have not yet been upgraded to the data rich dashboard, are reporting that what few stats they had are no longer showing and have been at best erratic for the last few months.

I contacted a number of Canadian local search folks, all of who confirmed that for the past 3-8 weeks stats have all but disappeared in their Local Business Centers. Have the stats disappeared in anticipation of a world wide upgrade to the new data rich dashboard? Or is there just a quirk in providing them?

The data rich dashboard was introduced in the US during the last week of May. At that time when asked what the timeframe for broader international rollout, Carter Maslan noted:It is a high priority but we have nothing specific to communicate. It will follow as we are able to provide it but there is no timeline to announce at the moment.”

Google Maps: Ask Google Tech Support?

I have been seeing this adword listing on the search Google Maps Help over the past week.

Google-tech

I am no AdWords expert but in Maps, there is no way to use the word Google in a business listing even if you are using a Google Site as your home page. Your listing will be flagged and move to a state of semi-permanent purgatory with the “Flagged Waiting for Content Check” message.

Does Adwords allow for the offer of Google tech support on Google products? Is this an approved service? The headline leaves the distinct impression that it is actually Google Tech Support.

Google Maps starts Newsletter and Account Updates Email

Update 8/12/09 4:50 PM: I just received the newsletter in my mailbox. Just one showed up, but no stats just yet. Ok its 5:06 and I just received a second email with a different subject but the same newsletter but now including an overview of stats for one of the listings in the LBC.

In July of 2008, Google added additional communication capability settings to the Local Business Center where an LBC account was able to request a newsletter and updates to their LBC account. The first newsletter has just been released .

Here are the contents of the first newsletter:

Google Local Business Center

Local Business Newsletter Issue #1 – August, 2009

LBC logo
dotted lines
In This Issue:

Letter from the Local Business Center Team

Tips and Tricks

August Business of the Month: TCHO Chocolates

Latest from Google:

According to the Google post in the Help Forums the communication also includes the ability to get a snapshot of the data rich dashboard emailed on a monthly basis. It is not clear whether the mailings started or will occur over the coming month.

LBC Settings

Google “upgrades” Maps’ Forums

Today around noon, Google, as part of a change across all of their forums, has upgraded the Map’s Help forums. The goal of the change is to make the system as descriptive as possible to avoid duplicate questions.

For a frequent forum visitor it dramatically slows down getting an overarching view of the activity and posts although with a click you can get to the All Discussions View. That being said it does provide a single view of all of my personal activity and all discussions on the forums so that I can get a better sense of the status of posts that have been updated.

Lost in the “upgrade”  are links to the form to post spam reports for Google Maps as well as the links to the significant blog posts that Google has made in their Water Cooler Blog. The site has become much more hierachal with all links leading off of the main Maps Help Page linked from Maps. Unfortunately once you head into the forums, there is no direct path back to the critical tips in the blog or easy way to file a spam report.

Time will tell whether typical users will get the information they more quickly. Regardless, the nature of problems in the Maps’ forum are such that without more Google staff intervention many of the questions still can not be answered.

Local Business Center: Same listing in multiple languages is OK

Can a Canadian business that is required by law, post two listings in the LBC? One in French and one in English? Can a Lawyer that services both English and Spanish clientele from a San Diego office have a listing in both languages? Can an English guest house that services European clients have a listing in 6 languages?

The question of whether a business could create the same listing in multiple languages comes up from time to time in the forums and in this blog. It was assumed that the Business Listing Guideline that stated: Create only one listing for each physical location of your business meant that having the same listing in several languages was not acceptable. Apparently, that is not the case  and it is acceptable under Google’s guidelines to have the same listing in as many languages as appropriate.

Here is what Google had to say when asked if it was OK for a business to list in multiple languages:

Yes, users can do this. The thing is, there isn’t a feature currently available, but there is a workaround. What users can do is first create the listing in English. Then they can select the appropriate language from the drop-down menu in the upper right-hand corner of the Local Business Center and create the same exact listing in that language.

We hope to make this easier for users in the future.

Creating the same listing in a different language doesn’t violate our guidelines. Our policy states that a business owner can’t create 2 different business listings at one location.

Google Maps confirms Bulk Upload Whitelist Program for LBC

In early June, reports surfaced of a new beta program that allows a Local Business Center account’s bulk uploads to be whitelisted after approval by Google. Google has confirmed this program and estimates that it will be live in the Local Business Center in several months.

Here a correspondence from last week with Carter Maslan, VP of Maps:

MB: I have received several emails concerning Google’s whitelisting of bulk uploads for use in the Maps index. Would you be able to share program details and specifics as to how an agency might get approved under this program?

Carter: We’re still working out the process for whitelisting, but we should be able to start introducing it soon (within a couple months). It is geared towards people that are acting as sole agent of a single business in publishing locations (typically an employee of the business supplying a feed of chain/office locations, but perhaps also a person that the business has contracted). So whitelisting is not at the Agency-level; instead it’s at the individual business level where that business may have hired an employee or SEM consultant to do its work.
Does that make sense?

MB: Are you saying that it will be an LBC level procedure? If so what is involved in obtaining the status?

Carter: Yes. For example, if you’re signed-in to the LBC account that contains the bulk upload of all the Acme Widget Company locations, then you’d request whitelisting of that feed in that account.

MB: So you are saying that it will be a brand by brand, case by case level approval? Will the request structure be formalized within the LBC or will it stay the “figure out if you can” sort of thing?

Carter: Maybe not quite brand by brand. For example, if a parent corporation has multiple brands and they’ve hired someone to handle all their various franchise locations, we *may* want to enable whitelisting of the corporation’s feed; we haven’t finished working that out exactly. But generally, we want the user account to correspond to a single business brand to help ensure quality/accuracy.

In terms of process, we’re still working through that; but there will likely be a link in LBC to request whitelisting.

It is unclear if the beta program is still open and how one would join. Regardless, an improved and secure bulk upload would be a welcome change.

Google Local Business Center Down Times Announced

Google has scheduled two more rounds of downtime for the Local Business Center:

Wednesday 8/5, 12-1pm PDT
Monday 8/10, 10-11am PDT

Google Maps LBC: How to make % Complete = 100%

Percentage-complete-LBCIf you grew up in the American school system like I did, you always wanted to know: How do I get a 100? Ever since Google introduced the Data Rich Dashboard in early June, this has been a frequent question on the minds of all that have frequented the Local Business Center and filled out the details for their business. How do I get 100% Complete on the Local Business Center Dashboard?

At the time of the introduction Carter Maslan noted: “We are making a change so that is more specific as to what the % complete indicates. If it isn’t available on rollout it will be available shortly.”

A reader (Nick Thomas of G5 Search Marketing) couldn’t wait and produced this very helpful data to provide clear guidelines as to how to achieve a perfect score on your LBC listing:

Percent (%) Complete Guidelines LBC

Here is the same information in table form:

Field in LBC order % Contribution to Score
Required Fields, Company/Organization, Street Address, City/Town, State, ZIP, Main phone 40%
Email address 5%
Website 10%
Description: 200 characters or less 5%
Categories 0%
Hours of operations 5%
Payment options (any box toggled) 5%
Photo 1 5%
Photo 2 2%
Photo 3 1%
Photo 4 0%
Photo 5 2%
Photo 6 2%
Photo 7 2%
Photo 8 2%
Photo 9 2%
Photo 10 2%
Video 1 4%
Video 2-5 0%
Additional Details (one line) 6%

The writer noted that he tabulated these percentages by filling in a new listing and saving after each field was completed. He indicated that Google being Google the tabulation might not be the same if you were working on an existing listing. However my experience is that he has in fact identified the critical issues in reaching the 100% Complete level.

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