Last year in November Google opened up Maps to community editing, allowing people to move the pushpin markers to correct or improve the accuracy of business locations. John Hanke, Director of Maps & Earth, told us at the time that Google would move beyond just place markers and allow registered users to edit Maps more generally. Yesterday Google told us that users will now be able to edit any of the details about a business or location or add new businesses, even if they’re not the business owner. The capability doesn’t appear to be live yet, however. (See below for instructions.)
I asked Hanke the standard question about maliciousness, but in a very specific context. The hypothetical we discussed is a competitor swapping out his or her phone number for that of another business. For example, local Florist A ranks better and is getting more calls from Google than Flower Shop B. So Flower Shop B, having cleverly discovered the open-editing capability, replaces Florist A’s phone number with its own to siphon off calls from its competitor.
Hanke said that all the changes are recorded and preserved in the system so they can be tracked and observed. It’s also the case that users have to register to make any changes, which creates a further disincentive. He added that changes are monitored and moderated internally. The malicious competitor would likely be caught under those circumstances.
Hanke acknowledged that there were some risks in doing this — Yahoo has had a similar system in place for some time without incident — but he stressed the value of getting the community involved in cleaning up and improving the database. Indeed, the best and richest information is ultimately going to come from users. And the overwhelming experience with user-generated content is that people are honest.
Google has had enormous success, for example, with its My Maps product on a global basis since it was introduced in April, 2007. (My Maps also allows group collaboration.) And Google is starting to integrate My Maps data into the “text view” of Maps results with its more conventional, licensed data.
By increasingly opening up Maps to the community, Google is gradually evolving the product beyond an online “directory” site into something much more flexible, which offers a much broader range of information. Google also views Maps as a repository for data and media beyond text. YouTube videos, Panaramio images, and book search results are currently available and searchable on Maps, which has become a mirror of Google Earth in many respects.
Finally, Hanke and I spoke about the change from three to ten local links on Google SERPs. He wouldn’t tell me specifics about whether traffic to Maps had increased as a result. However, he said that Google was pleased with the change and it was having the desired effect.
Postscript: Google said that once a listing has been claimed by a business owner it cannot be edited, which should give businesses both comfort and an incentive to claim and correct their listings. Mike Blumenthal offers a step-by-step walk through of where to go and how to add and edit the listings.
Here are two videos that explain adding and editing places in Google Maps: