Was just quoted in the media again about Google Places and wanted to share. But 1st, in case you missed it, on September 5th the New York Times reported on a major Google Places problem that I gave them the story lead on and researched for them. It was about the problem of viable businesses being easily marked as “This Business is Permanently Closed” on Google Places. There is no Google verification, it happens quickly and is being used as a competitive tactic.

In the Times story and a post on the Google blog, Google apologized, saying a solution would be available “in coming days”. Mike Blumenthal just tested it. Closed his own Place page to see if the problem has been fixed. NOPE!

I commented at Mike’s “I’m going to continue to go the media route on big problems like this, because I think public and shareholder pressure over time may help Google re-focus efforts to make Places better.”

Today an InfoWorld story about Google Places broke that I was interviewed for. This story is more about the lack of support for Google Places, but also references the Times article Mike & I were quoted in last week.

Google: The big baby that won’t grow up – InfoWorld
Google says it wants business adoption but won’t support companies that need help. When will the grownups take over?

Last week, the New York Times broke the story that unscrupulous competitors were going on to Places and signaling that a rival business was permanently closed, which could be fatal to that fully operational business. When I read that story, I wondered why the aggrieved businesses didn’t simply call up someone at Google to get help. It turns out they can’t. With a few exceptions, “there’s just no way to reach Google when you have a problem with Places,” Linda Buquet, a marketing consultant, tells me.

You must use us, but no support for you
Small businesses have little choice about being on Places. “Google Places dominates the top of local search. And Google is going around the country, holding training sessions to promote it,” says Buquet, who runs Catalyst eMarketing.

Businesses feel like they have to sign up or risk disappearing from customers’ view. Even companies that are interested sometimes find that Google has added them to Places without asking, she says.

I was involved in another discussion recently with a Googler that ties right into this story about the lack of support for Google Places. I gave the following quote to the InfoWorld reporter, but it was likely just too long to use, so I wanted to repost it here.

Googler Dewitt Clinton wrote on Google Plus:

If you have a billion users, and a mere 0.1% of them have an issue that requires support on a given day (an average of one support issue per person every three years), and each issue takes 10 minutes on average for a human to personally resolve, then you’d spend 19 person-years handling support issues every day.

If each support person works an eight-hour shift each day then you’d need 20,833 support people on permanent staff just to keep up.

My reply on 8/25

Free services are one thing. If it’s buggy – use a different product. If there is no support, that’s the breaks sometimes.

HOWEVER WHEN GOOGLE SCRAPES YOUR BUSINESS DATA FOR IT’S OWN BENEFIT AND FEATURES LOCAL LISTINGS AT THE TOP OF SEARCH AND TELLS EVERY BUSINESS TO GET SIGNED UP WITH GOOGLE PLACES – THE STORY IS DIFFERENT. When Google creates a product that can make or break a business – support is necessary, not optional. Especially when the product is as buggy as Google Places is – support is needed.

When Google takes YOUR business listing and merges it with a competitor across town that steals your customers – you need support.

When Hospitals, Police departments and other emergency services have the wrong phone number on their Place page due to a bad Google scrape and cannot get any support to get it fixed – lives are sometimes even at stake!

When Google merges bad data into your claimed listing and changes address or phone so customers can’t reach you – it’s a big deal.

When your small business discovers it’s been marked PERMANENTLY CLOSED by a competitor and your phone stops ringing and you can’t get support – it’s a big deal. (When a business is allowed to be marked closed, without any verification at all – when Google could EASILY fix that problem, but doesn’t – that’s criminal negligence in my book to begin with.)

When negative review spam and outright slander by obviously fake reviewers is allowed to ruin a company’s reputation without any checks and balances and with no direct support to rectify the problem – it’s a biggie. (Especially in cases of blatant review spam, when done by overseas accounts posting hundreds of obviously fake reviews so they can sell reputation management svcs.)

I could go on and on. I just pity all these small business people that have to deal with all these problems that literally affect their livelihoods and there is virtually no support.

I’ve suggested many times that Google could make Places support a profit center. When someone’s phone stops ringing due to a Google bug, or they are hit with 25 fake slanderous reviews in one day – most would be happy to pay for a support call to get it fixed.

However the other option with Google Places is to simply fix many of the core problems that have been around for so long and that continue to cause problems for tons of users every day. Most problems above could be fixed with a simple tweak in coding and policy. Take the advice of leading pros who have offered solutions to many of the problems. Just make the product work right and a lot of the need for support is minimized.

To be clear I am not a Google hater. I’m an advocate for small businesses and a raving fan for the solution that Google Places ‘can’ and ‘SHOULD’ be! We have a long way to go. Will media attention on the big issues help to force improvements? We can only hope! But I will continue to try to drive positive change in any way I can, including the media – now that I have the ear of some great reporters.

UPDATE 9/15 9PM: Just found out from Mike, Google made an update on their blog and seem to be making progress on the business marked as closed problem.

“As promised, we’ve recently made a change to our process of displaying when a business has been reported to be closed on its place page. More specifically, we have removed the interim notification about a report having been made so that a listing will only be updated after it has been reviewed by Google and we believe the change to be accurate.”