The city of Sunrise, Florida, is back on the map. On Google Maps. It mysteriously vanished more than a month ago, making it impossible to find anything in Sunrise via a Google search. Some local businesses have reported significant declines in online sales. The city’s mayor, after contacting Google and failing to get a call back, sent a letter to CEO Eric Schmidt last week. National and local media picked up the story this week.
And then yesterday, more than a month after the problem was first reported, Sunrise — and all of its businesses, attractions, and places — finally regained its visibility on Google Maps.
Google has apologized to Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan “for the frustration and difficulty the mistake has caused.” Local business owners are no doubt relieved that the mistake has been fixed, but at least one wonders how long Sunrise would’ve remained gone without the media exposure and pressure from city officials. She’s promising to make sure Google Maps “stays fixed.”
What Happened To Sunrise?
Technically speaking, Sunrise was still “in” Google Maps — it’s just that you couldn’t find it by searching. For all intents and purposes, the city didn’t exist. If you tried any Sunrise-related query, the city and its local businesses were gone: sunrise fl restaurants … florists sunrise florida … or this one, sunrise florida car dealers.
Rather than show search results for Sunrise businesses, in each case Google was showing results in the Sarasota, Florida, area. Sarasota is on the western side of Florida, about 200 miles northwest of Sunrise. And it wasn’t just a business problem; important civic resources were unfindable. Even a search for sunrise florida hospitals pointed users to Sarasota.
Other cities have also vanished from Google Maps. Earlier this year, Google lost La Jolla, California. It’s also lost Rogers, Minnesota, Wickliffe, Ohio, Woodstock, Virginia, and Imperial Beach, California.
This was the third time Sunrise had gone missing; it happened previously in August and October of 2009. But this time, some Sunrise business owners and officials took matters into their own hands.
Sunrise Speaks Up
Sherry Tannozzini, owner of Flowers from the Rainflorist, was the first to speak up. She reported this latest problem to Google on August 17th and was told eight days later by a Google employee that it would take 1-2 months to fix. That prompted Sherry to write a blog post and to tell Sunrise city officials and media outlets what was going on with Google Maps.
The story was picked up this week by the Associated Press (video), the Sun Sentinel newspaper, the local CBS affiliate (with video), and the local NBC station. The story reportedly aired on NPR, and even the BBC was in touch with the Mayor’s office.
The NBC story reported that city officials were considering legal action against Google, but Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan first sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt demanding a quick fix to his city’s disappearance:
The fact that you have “lost” our City is negatively impacting our businesses. Losing a city such as ours also calls into question the efficacy of your company’s search engine. You need to fix this problem immediately and permanently.
Here’s a PDF of the mayor’s letter to Google.
Impact On Sunrise Businesses
Tannozzini told us earlier this week that her shop – which delivers flowers in the Sunrise and Ft. Lauderdale area — was feeling the pain of Sunrise’s disappearance from Google.
Phone sales are down. Web orders are down. General sales from existing customers remain about the same, but new customer sales via phone (who always say, “I’m on your website”) or those that come directly from our website are about 90% down.
Chamber of Commerce officials told local media that they received calls from a couple dozen businesses who were feeling the impact of not being visible on Google.
How Did Sunrise Go Missing?
Google, as you might expect, isn’t sharing specific details about how it lost Sunrise, Florida, or how it lost all those other cities in the past. In a statement to Search Engine Land before the situation was fixed, a Google spokesperson attributed the problem to “inaccuracies” from the various map sources it uses.
Google is committed to providing our users with the richest, most up-to-date maps possible. We’ve built our map from a combination of authoritative sources, ranging from the U.S. Census Bureau to commercial data providers, and have used satellite, aerial and Street View imagery to help complete the map. Overall, this provides a very comprehensive map of the U.S., but we recognize that there may be occasional inaccuracies that could arise from any of those sources. We encourage users to let us know when something is incorrect by using our “Report a Problem” button, found at the bottom right corner of the map.
It was just about a year ago that Google dropped TeleAtlas map data and started using those other sources for Google Maps. And yes, each of the cases of missing cities that are mentioned earlier in this article happened after Google changed its map data source.
Google didn’t specifically answer our requests to learn how a city can disappear from Google Maps and why it takes a month or two to fix. The company did, as mentioned above, apologize already to Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan for the city’s troubles. Ryan didn’t reply to our e-mails asking for reaction to Sunrise’s reemergence on Google Maps, but we’ll update this article if we hear from him.
Sherry Tannozzini, the Sunrise florist that first reported the problem, told us that she’s “elated” about the problem being fixed, but she’s also frustrated with what she says it took to get Google to take action.
“[It's] shocking that it took less than 12 hours after the AP wire story broke that it was resolved, especially since we have tried to reach someone [at Google] since mid-August who would listen and do something other than the ‘canned’ response. I am going to diligently follow this and see that it stays ‘fixed,’ now that I know how to get the attention of Google.”
A Google spokesperson says there’s no correlation between the media exposure and when the problem was resolved: “I can assure you that our product team was already aware of the technical error and working on a resolution prior to the AP and other media stories.”
(Thanks to Mike Blumenthal for research assistance.)