First Case of Large Scale Abuse at Google Maps?

In the past there have been tales of skullduggery (see: Beware: Competitor Hijacks Google Local Business Listing? Maybe, Maybe Not!) at Google Maps which have proven to be false. It appeared that Google Map’s verification system was robust and while there may have been algorhytmic problems, there had been no reports of abuse….until recently.

It appears that some companies are managing to spam Google Maps local listings via Bulk Upload. This abuse was first reported to Google in the Maps for Business Group on 7/19/07 and substantiated on 7/20/07. Google’s response from Maps Guide Jen:

Right now there’s no easy way to report these listings or get them removed,
especially if there’s a lot of them. If you can let me know the specific
search term that you’re looking at, I might be able to do a quick quality
check.

The abuse reported was multiple local listings by TechPros. In a brief check of other areas, their listings were found in all major and minor metropolitan areas of the US that I checked (perhaps in every zip code), using the exact same PO Box and phone number on every lisitng. In the example shown below Google Maps show 487 results for Techpros near Chicago, IL. Google is also showing 264 for Techpros near Olean, NY (by way of reference Olean barely supports 5 computer repair facilities).

techpro.jpg

rentageek.jpgA similar situation seems to exist for a company called RentAGeekInc.com, showing results of 148 for Rent a Geek near Olean, NY and 603 for Rent a Geek near Chicago, IL (click on image at right for a screen capture of results).

It is important for public confidence that Google not only take care of these listings immediately by removing them but that they implement a better system for preventing these types of entries in the future.

Privacy and Goog-411

The new Street View has once again raised the spectre of privacy concerns. I have trouble worrying about photos invading my privacy. I try not to walk around in public naked.
On the other hand there has been an informative and provocative discussion at the Goog-411 Google Group about the privacy implications of Goog-411 and Google knowing your number and the number of those you are calling. The implications of Google’s Click to call from your browser, pda or cellphone will be even greater as Google has the ability to correlate your on-line and off-line activities.

Local Links of Interest

Experiment with Google Voice Local Search -Naturalsearchblog

Google patent app shows extensive Google plans for mobile search -ZDNET Blogs, Russell Shaw

Local Mobile Search Ready to Roll?-Greg Sterling, Screenwerk

Yahoo! Real Estate Updates Home Values Search with Maps and Local -Yahoo! Local & Maps Blog

Measuring the Impact of Universal Search on Local Search Traffic -Naffziger’s Net

Refining Queries Using Category Synonyms for Local and Other Searches – Seo by The Sea

How far afield will Google Maps go for an answer? More than ever!

At the Google LatLong blog, Google announced that Maps now offered a neighborhood search capability. From the post:

You can now do searches such as bagels upper east side new york and restaurants, over the rhine, cincinnati on Google Maps. Additionally, this capability allows you to do city-level searches where the city is uniquely named, regardless of size, such as bakery corpus christi, or movie theater albuquerque.

A similar change that affects rural searches (and possibly suburban searches) is the dramatic increase in distance that will retrieve a result when there is no service available in the town requested.

Previously, if a user searched on a service that wasn’t available in the town name provided, the Local OneBox would only return results in order of distance from the query but with a definite mileage limit. If there was only one or two listing, then only those two would be returned. In my area of the country it appeared to be about 15 miles (although according to Bill Slawski this sensitivity varies by location).

Now however, if a service doesn’t exist in the town identified or if only a non-verified listing is available, Google will retrieve verified listings from a much greater area and always return 3 listings. We are seeing listings showing up on queries for towns 40-50 miles away. Here is a search on web hosting Jamestown NY that returns our business at a distance of 41 miles and our second office at a distance of about 30 miles.

jamestownny.jpg

Google Mobile XHTML upgrade

I was sitting at my daughter’s soccer match yesterday and slightly bored, I started to play with the browser on my old Nokia 3600 cell phone.

I explored MSN (it didn’t work) and the Yahoo interface (not bad) but I was struck by the incredible improvement to the speed and quality of the interface to Google. It was fast (on a slow connection with a cheap data plan), customizable and (despite the limits imposed by a cell phone keypad) allowed me full access to all of the new universal data types and data sources particularly local data. Here is some information from Google site. Their plans were announced in early April.

It is not clear when this change was rolled out but I am struck by 1)its similarity to the Universal Search initiative and 2)that it really works on my xhtml browser at very slow speeds. The interface works incredibly well and (almost?) conquers an interface that had seemed intractable to me. I (and others if they find out about it) might just start doing local searches on my cell phone.
From their website:

Just launched! An even better way to search on the go.

We’ve been working to make searching with Google on your mobile device even better. Check out the new search experience that delivers the following features:

Faster and more relevant results
New search features reduce the number of keystrokes needed to type a query, quickly getting you the information you want. Advanced search technology serves the best possible search results depending on the your query and situation; whether you’re looking for local listings or images, web pages or web pages designed specifically for mobile devices, the new search experience will intelligently serve you the right results – so that you get to the information you’re looking for faster and easier.

Add modules to personalize your search page
If you’re always looking for weather updates – why not add a permanent weather module onto your search page? Now you can add modules directly onto your search page such as weather, stock market updates, website feeds or news snippets – without having to register for or log into a Google account.

Location memory
The new search stores your most recently searched locations, making it faster and easier to get information the next time you search on Google. Searching for a local listing will provide results relevant to your set location. A dropdown box then allows you to change your default location to a list of previously searched locations, or you add a new location to the list.

You can view the interface in your desktop browser at http://www.google.com/xhtml .

Google Maps going 3D?

This just in from the San Jose Mercury News: Google aims for 3D World

From the article:The Mercury News has learned that Google has quietly licensed the sensing technology developed by a team of Stanford University students that enabled Stanley, a Volkswagon Touareg R5, to win the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge….

The technology will enable Google to map out photo-realistic 3-D versions of cities around the world, and possibly regain ground it has lost to Microsoft’s 3-D mapping application known as Virtual Earth….

Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, available through the 3-D link on maps.live.com, gives a hint of what that future will look like. Thanks to a unique approach to aerial photography, clever algorithms and the application of massive computational power, Microsoft has been able to create exact replicas of more than 50 cities, including San Francisco and San Jose.

Google Earth had 3-D cities, too. But until now, the buildings have been modeled by people, not computers, giving Microsoft’s computer-generated cities a decided edge in completeness.

Local Links of Interest:More on Google’s Universal Search

Interesting Forum conversation on the impact of the Huge Expansion of the Google Onebox at SEORefugee.

Local businesses in Universal search from Google LatLong. Note the comment: We’re excited about this first step in the integration of local results in Universal search and will continue to let you know about developments in this area over the coming months.

Taking advantage of universal search from Google Webmaster Central has some good ideas for other ways to be sure that your business shows up in the Universal Search universe. Perhaps Dave will become a video star? There is no reason to limit your reach to local and organic to achieve reach.

New Google Maps Layout- a work in progress but still unfinished

At SearchEngineLand Greg Sterling has given a mini review of the Maps layout in: Universal Search Spawns New Format for Maps.

From Greg’s post: In conjunction with Universal Search, the Google Maps team created a new “text view” that features images of local businesses and a smaller map. The placement of ads is different, below the map on the right. And there’s a pull-down menu to adjust distance.

Here’s an example for “coffee houses, New York.” The traditional “map view” is a click away. One way you get to text view is by clicking on “local business results …” in what formerly was the Google Maps OneBox (now Universal Search). You can also get there from the “text view” link within Maps.

Several other new features and bugs of note in the restaurant listings:

-Google has added a choice to view the menu provided by other sites (i.e. nymag.com & restaurantrow.com)

-There are a number of interface issues that give a distinct unfinished feel to the product. For example now when you select the business listing for more details and are presented with a summary of all data, there is no apparent way to return to the list view. Likewise when you view the reviews. The menu choice takes the user off-site completely which is different behavior than all other links.

The deep links of the Map product have a rushed and unfinished feel to them with little internal consistency and too much requirement for back button use.

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new Maps view.jpg

Developing Knowledge about Local Search