When The New York Times reports, Google reads. Google has moved to address an article the Times published called, "Closed, Says Google, but Shops' Signs Say Open."
The article Monday was about business listings on Google Maps that are incorrectly being labeled as closed as a result of spam. The Times story starts off chronicling the plight of Jason Rule, the owner of a coffee shop in Hays, Kansas. According to Google Maps, his Coffee Rules Lounge was "permanently closed."
That came as some surprise to Rule.
"We're not far from Interstate 70," he told the Times, "and I have no doubt that a lot of people running up and down that highway just skipped us."
Could competitors be marking other local businesses as spam? The controversy speaks to the fact that Google and Google Places are now important resources for consumers, according to Greg Sterling, principal analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
"The stakes are high," Sterling said.
"Having incorrect listings data or being subject to spam or mischief can have a material impact on a local business. It's a mirror of the issues surrounding consumer reviews of local businesses," he said.
"The industry needs some new standards and processes to deal with local data accuracy and to redress problems and complaints that arise in a timely manner."
Again, when the Times reports -– and when analysts start chiming in about industry standards and processes -– Google reads. And sometimes responds.
This time, Google Product Manager Ethan Russell responded Tuesday to the article, which also noted how easy it is to report a business closed on Google Places. Russell shared Google's view about the issue and worked to assure business owners and Google Maps users that the company is working on a solution.
"Every year, millions of businesses open, close, move, change their hours, get a new website or make other types of changes," Russell said. "Because we can't be on the ground in every city and town, we enable our great community of users to let us know when something needs to be updated."
Russell went on to explain that the vast majority of edits completed through crowdsourcing have improved the quality and accuracy of business listings in Google Maps.
He even offered an example of how Google handles pending edits: If a place is reported to be closed, the system displays a label that reads, "Reported to be closed. Not true?" Only when that pending edit is reviewed and approved does the label change to, "This place is permanently closed. Not true?"
According to Russell, Google was made aware of the abuse – such as "place closed" spam labels – about two weeks ago. The company has been working since to make improvements to its system to prevent malicious or incorrect labeling, and promised to implement safeguards in coming days.
Russell also responded to business owners who may have been affected by the spam labeling.
"We know that accurate listings on Google Maps are an important tool for many business owners," he said. "We take reports of spam and abuse very seriously and do our best to ensure the accuracy of a listing before updating it."
Posted: 2011-09-07 @ 8:12am PT
Since I was mentioned I thought I would post my thoughts on the issue... http://www.tumblr.com/tumblelog/coffeerules