The New York Times interviewed me recently about a Google Places problem I’ve blogged about a couple times. I helped David Segal, the reporter, with that story, which still could go to print. Then I asked him if he’d like a Google Places story lead about a another problem that is negatively impacting small businesses and proceeded to fill him in on the following issue.

Of course the story hit Monday, while I was off on an unplugged vacation. 😉 Just got back and even though it’s late, thought I’d share for anyone that missed it.

See Google update on this issue below.

Closed, Says Google, but Shops’ Signs Say Open – New York Times

When Google created Places it had an eminently sensible type of crowd-sourcing in mind. The site contains millions of listings, and when owners close without updating their profile, the job falls to customers to keep information current. But like any open system, this one can be abused. Search engine consultants say that “closing” a business on Google has become an increasingly common tactic among unscrupulous competitors.

“I’d say that it was in June that we started to see a big uptick in complaints about this in online forums,” said Linda Buquet of Catalyst eMarketing in San Marcos, Calif. “It might be that a number of consultants are now offering services like ‘nuke your competitor’ in Google Places. But it could just be a competitor, acting alone.”

Again, that story broke on Monday. Since then there have been 108 comments, plus the story was widely circulated in other media outlets like BusinessWeek and Forbes.

Then on Tuesday Google posted a reply to say they are actively working on a solution.

Combatting Spammy Closed Listing Labels on Google Maps – Official Google Blog

About two weeks ago, news in the blogosphere made us aware that abuse — such as “place closed” spam labels — was occurring. And since then, we’ve been working on improvements to the system to prevent any malicious or incorrect labeling. These improvements will be implemented in the coming days.

We know that accurate listings on Google Maps are an important tool for many business owners. We take reports of spam and abuse very seriously and do our best to ensure the accuracy of a listing before updating it. That being said, we apologize to both business owners and users for any frustration this recent issue of spam labeling has caused, and we’re committed to making sure that users and potential customers continue to have the most up-to-date and accurate information possible.

It’s great to know that Google is listening, reacting and doing something about this problem! Thank you!

I referred the reporter to Mike Blumenthal who was also quoted in the article and who most of you know is another advocate for change with Google Places. I’m hoping one outcome that will come from this story is that now when Mike, myself or others post about important problems that affect SMBs, Google may listen closer and react faster, knowing that Mike and I have easy access to someone at the Times that seems to have a real interest in this type of story.

Plus I’ve been getting calls and emails from other major media sources wanting to do stories or radio interviews about other Google Places problems. So I expect we’re going to see more Google Places stories soon.

For the record, even though I am vocal about Google Places problems, I am NOT a Google-hater – at all! I am an advocate for change and a big believer in the potential Google Places has to be a powerful and positive business solution. Lots of improvements and changes are still needed and I’m simply trying to give her a push in the right direction. Sometimes unfortunately, it takes a push from the media to get her full attention!

Thanks David Segal for picking up and running with this story!

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.”

Comments on this news story and related posts:

NY Times: Closed, Says Google, but Shops’ Signs Say Open Mike’s blog follow up to the Times story in case you want to read what he had to say and read the comments.

Mike Blumenthal Featured in New York Times; Google Responds Immediately

All Sales & No Service: Google’s Small Business Priorities Are All Messed Up

Google Places Positive Change – New Email Warns when Business is Marked Permanently Closed or Core Data is Changed

News Flash: Google Mt View Reported Closed!

Places Blackhat Playground – Reported To Be Closed

Clarification re: Clarification re: closed listings on Google Places