Your mobile phone meets the ether

As a partner in a small firm that relies heavily on technologies that support and enhance telecommuting to maintain customer contact, I found three (totally unrelated) announcements of interest:

Microsoft acquires TellMe. I have been a big fan of 877-520-Find as a safe and productive tool for cell phone calling. It demonstrates effectively how voice (even though frustrating 10% of time) can move local search data easily into the mobile world. It avoids the DWT (driving while typing) offense that seems likely to kill people and is less frustrating than talking to directory assistance in a foreign country. The TellMe acquisition will put this type of service on the front burner as Google, Microsoft and others compete for the next generation of mobile search.

Gizmo SMS has rolled out a new service that allows you to send SMS text messages from your browser to mobile phones around the world, for free. I have always thought that texting was an effective business communication tool but just never could bring myself to pay for a web to phone service. It is simple, effective and even works from dial up via an old browser.

David Pogue of the NY Times writes (reg. req’d) of a new service that provides “One Number That Will Ring All Your Phones”. A new service by GrandCentral.com (free for 2 numbers, $15/month for 6 phones) will ring all of your phones simultaneously and keep all of your messages in a single web based voice mail box.

All of these services integrate existing mobile phone technology with the internet in a way that increases the value of both without requiring new hardware for either. They all could be used for delivery of ads and all offer a glimpse of the immediate future of integrating data with our cell phones.

Yahoo introduces Local Maps Suggestion Board

locally type(d) has a write up of the new Yahoo Local/Maps suggestion board where users can suggest, comment and vote on the best ideas for improvement.

If you have a idea for Yahoo Local you canmake your suggestion here.

I find the differing approaches of Google and Yahoo to map corrections/suggestions of interest. Yahoo one the one hand allows the more liberal, free for all approach allowing general users to add information to the maps but the more strict and less volatile approach to suggestions of voting. Google on the other hand, has a strict approach to map information input, allowing only the record holders to make changes in the Local Business Center and the much more freewheeling approach in their Google Groups for Maps for Business owners area.

While I will miss that Google Groups give and take in the Yahoo approach, I am sure that it leads to better employee relations. I am convinced that each morning, Map Guide’s Brian and Jen go to work and have this conversation: “Jen, I think it is your turn to respond today.” and Jen says: “No, no, I insist, it’s your turn.”

We’ll have to see if it leads to less material for my blog.:)

Google Maps Custom Attributes differ by industry segment

Thursday, Google introduced the ability to add custom attributes to a business listing at the Local Business Center. It is of interest that the default custom attributes change by industry. The choices for additional detail fields change as well. For example with a service industry the first field is Price, in the restaurant business it is Ambiance and for a Physician it is License Information.

You can see the default choices in the samples below. Google is essentially creating a public means to access the “schema” for each industry and to also help define it. Are we seeing the beginning of the “semantic web” race?

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Custom Attribute SErvice Industry

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Custom Attribute Restaurant

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Google Map Custom Attribute

Greg Sterling: Print Yellow Pages: What’s the Real Story?

Greg Sterling’s recent post: Print Yellow Pages: What’s the Real Story? is one of the best summaries of the issues and realities of the print Yellow Pages and their positioning vis-a-vis the internet yellow pages and local search.

I have fallen into the “detractor” camp for a number of years but have recognized that my personal point of view does not a trend make. Greg’s conclusion:

“It’s simply untrue to assert that all is well in print yellow pages land. But it’s also incorrect to call the medium dead……paradoxically, as consumer usage continues to migrate online the bulk of the revenues will remain offline for some time.”

Creating the world’s database, with all of the world’s information

Speaking of schema and the semantic web, the NY Times today had an article on Freebase(registration req’d), from start-up Metaweb that has the goal of “trying to create the world’s database, with all of the world’s information,” based on the ideas of the semantic Web.

According to the NY Times, “since it could offer an understanding of relationships like geographic location and occupational specialties, Freebase might be able to field a query about a child-friendly dentist within 10 miles of one’s home and yield a single result.”….

“It’s like a system for building the synapses for the global brain,” said Tim O’Reilly, chief executive of O’Reilly Media, a technology publishing firm based in Sebastopol, Calif.

Despite the articles fawning, messianic tone, it is interesting to me that the these ideas are now receiving coverage in the mainstream press.

Google slayers and purveyors of “all of the world’s information” will come and go. Some will survive and offer interesting developments and one might even one day unseat Google (and it might just be Freebase). Regardless, this road will be long, winding and interesting both in the technologies and the competitive battles.

Local Search is messy… but so is my bedroom

Business Week wrote a piece recently (03/08/07): Where Search Stumbles criticizing most of the local search engines. Greg Sterling has repeatedly pointed out that accuracy is the potential achilles heal of Local and there have been plenty of complaints elsewhere and here about quality and about complexity. But as I tell my relatives: I love you anyways.

I by no means find the quality acceptable, although I have gone on record with the opinion that it is satisfactory and will improve. I recently, though, read a post called “Its the Schema, stupid!” by a search researcher for IBM that helped me understand the bigger issues. I am not a database expert and have limited understanding of search schema or the semantic web. However his point that what is exciting about local search is that the searcher is looking for something real, struck a chord. The searcher is trying to find a pizza parlor or a car dealer as opposed to a document in cyberspace that general search might return. And that only by using a structure (schema) that is based on the real world would you ever be able to find it.

This brought home for me both the elegance and complexity of what Google, Yahoo & Ask are attempting to do with local search.

In Google, an organic search returns ranked & relevant results from a selection of web pages. They can not be judged as right or wrong just more or less relevant to the searcher and only in the aggregate.

In Google Maps local search, on the other hand, Google is attempting to return ranked, relevant AND right results. The relevance can be measured from the local searchers point of view, the rank can be disputed by the local resident and the rightness (or accuracy) can be verified to see if Google properly captured the correct phone, street address, category, neighborhood, quality, recognition of a hopefully open local business. It is judged in the very specific.

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NYU Medical Center reports Maps problems

Another report of large medical center problems with Google Maps:

== 1 of 1 ==
Date: Thurs, Mar 8 2007 9:22 pm
From: “Michael”  

I have the same exact problem. I am the web director for NYU Medical Center.

I have the correct address and phone number listed in over 20,000 pages on the footer.

Google maps does not have an elegant mechanism for validating changes. With large institutions, mail stops can be very difficult so the post card method does not work. Also, our call center is analog, so they can not validate there. How about a validation tag on our web site?
that would seem to be the most logical.

This has become a serious problem for us, as we have patients
literally showing up in the wrong locations when they are scheduled for surgery.

I have sent several emails to the maps group, to no avail.

Bart, if you find a solution i would love to hear it. I would love to know where the mapbot is getting its data from. An XML document on the root of my server listing the correct addresses and numbers would make the most sense to me.

Michael

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Google Upgrades Local Business Center

Google has upgraded the Local Business Center with a range of new features. You can now:

*Add photos to your Google Maps listing (within the guidelines)
*Add custom attributes to your business listings
*Correct and adjust your Google map marker location, so if it is slightly off, you can move it to the right spot
*You can now see statistics on how many people viewed and clicked on your local business listings

The ability to correct your map marker has been a frequent request at the Google Maps for Business Owners group and will add one step to the process of improving data accuracy.

The custom attributes feature holds out the promise of solving one of the vexing problems facing businesses that serve larger areas than the locale in which they are located and possibly solving the categorization issues as well.

The other very interesting feature of the custom attributes is the attributes differ by industry group. The default values for a Physician are different than the default values of a restaurant. It appears that Google is in the race to build the “semantic web”.

Barry Schwartz at SearchEngineLand has a great summary of the other new features in the Local Business Center..

customweb.jpg

Ask shape announcement may shape the future of Maps

Ask map upgrade

The Ask.com announcement, The New Shape of Local Search has been widely reported.

However, not many commentators have noted how cool and useful this feature really is. OK so you can draw on the map, big deal I said to myself.

Then I started drawing. When I noticed the email and permalink I thought, how long is the image stored? Can my doodles be shared?

It appears that the drawing data is captured in the link (and not stored anywhere) and when the link is shared the map doodles go right along with it to redraw the custom map for the next viewer.

Here is a sample map with my input: http://city.ask.com/city?msid=f29535c07bc94e24c4c10fd0b697730c&msuserid=eeef09e483dbd0f315991e723912e733

The fact that there is a permalink to this image and that it can be emailed means that each users custom map can exist forever for whatever purpose…a temporary rendezvous, a map for a website…and possibly many more.

Hitwise confirms: Dramatic rise in Google Maps traffic due to Onebox update

Last week I reported on a Hitwise report that Traffic to Google Maps increased by 26% from Jan. to Feb. due to an increase from upstream Google traffic and I surmised that it was likely due to the OneBox change.

Today, LeeAnn Prescott from Hitwise confirmed that the traffic increase was likely due to the change and that the week lag in data that I had noted was an artifact of the data collection and Google rollout procedures. LeeAnn noted: If the Local One Box change happened in the middle of the week, there may be a lag. It also may have been rolled out in different markets separately.

Hitwise report on Google Map market share

I had noted previously that the Local OneBox change had provided between 10 and 12 new entry points into Maps from the prime territory above the fold on the main search results.

To give a sense of how large this increase is one needs to realize that just this increase is roughly equal to all of Microsoft’s Local traffic and greater than the combined traffic from Insiderpages, Judy’s Book, Ask & Yelp.

Given Google’s dominant share in search, even small changes on their main search results page creates incredible traffic for any of their secondary products. It demonstrates clearly how difficult it will be to unseat the leader in the local battle on-line.

Developing Knowledge about Local Search