No. 964
May 6th, 2011

Google Wonders…

…is this place still here?

Google Wonders...

I came across the above screenshot doing some retrospective research on restaurants for a friend visiting my old neighborhood in Oakland. It is un-Photoshopped (other than being cropped on the right-hand side to fit on a normal blog layout).  Now, I know I’ve been out of it on my trip overseas, but has anyone else noticed this prompt recently?  I was able to replicate it both signed-in and signed-out.

Among other things (discussed below), even the visual treatment is interesting.  The yellow highlighting on the listing in the results, and on the Place Page itself, is equivalent to what Google used to show for Tags subscribers who were paying them $25 per month.  Does this mean Google would pay $25 for a closed business that they could verify beyond any doubt?  Doubtful, but if Google’s pure interest was in a good searcher experience, they would just highlight “Reported as closed” and possibly ask users to verify in a smaller font underneath the other details.  What is the value of current business information in a high-value vertical like restaurants in an expensive locale like the East Bay?


Why did this highlighted prompt prompt appear next to this business listing?  Some theories:

  • It’s an unclaimed Place Page.
  • The Yelp Profile for this place is active and current (note plenty of reviews in the last 6 weeks or so).
  • They are not able to associate a website with the Place Page (weird, since it’s very clear on Yelp).
  • A Google user has used the word ‘formerly’ in a review.
  • Google users have marked a business at the same address as permanently closed.
    Incidentally, it was marked ‘closed’ over six months ago by a very trusted Maps user who has over 3,500 edits to her name.
  • That business is also clearly marked closed on Yelp.

Regardless of the internal algorithm that determines when this prompt is going to be shown, to me, this is a clear showing of the cards as to where Google is headed. The company’s underlying mindset is to crowdsource without cost as much as it possibly can.  This is especially true in Local, where Mike Blumenthal has been, up until a couple of months ago, the de facto Google Places Customer Service Department.  And Google’s insistence on the “wisdom” of this strategy has been clear since the very first dust-up over user edits–a dust-up which has, we in the Local Search community hope, at least partially led them to at least REVIEW these edits before publishing them.

But, they’ve already decided to go it alone on underlying maps data.  I think it’s only a matter of time before they decide to do the same for business data.  And with the relative success of Hotpot to-date, they now have a much broader community of active Places users to rely on than ever before.

Doing the Math

Most of us speculate there are currently 3 million claimed Place Pages in the US, based on the 6 million worldwide number announced by Marissa Mayer at SxSW this year and the ratio of US:Worldwide on Google’s first announcement back in April of 2009.  Critical mass of business data?

We know that Google crawls the web for matching business information that it assigns to clusters in its Places index…the question is, at what point does Google no longer need the direct underlying data provided by Infogroup and (speculative) Localeze?  At what point do Marissa and Carter say:

“OK.  We’ve got W# million claimed Place Pages.  Combined with the businesses which we see have X# of total user reviews on Yelp, CityGrid, and TripAdvisor in the last Y# of months (presumably a good indication that an establishment is still in business), that’s a total of Z# million businesses.  That’s a good enough subset of businesses to start with.  For the ones that we think might be closed, we’ll ask our own users or use a company like Gigwalk.  They’re way cheaper than aggregated licensing.”

Now, I don’t know what the intellectual property lawyers would say about Google accumulating data from others’ published legwork with no underlying source to attach it to, but clearly Yelp and TripAdvisor are so heavily dependent on organic traffic from Google that they’re not going to NOINDEX their content anytime soon.  Especially with Yelp planning an IPO.  Can you imagine presenting a 50%+ drop in traffic as you’re trying to raise money?

So, let’s play a little Price Is Right.  Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere between 14 and 22 million total U.S. businesses.

a) Without going over, rounded to the nearest half-million, what is W? That is to say, what number of claimed U.S. Place Pages before Google eschews all heretofore-traditionally-aggregated data?

b) Without going over, rounded to the nearest half-million, what is Z? (That is, the total number of non-traditionally-aggregated businesses–including claimed Places.)

c) In what month and year will that event occur?

I’ll give a prize in the form of a link from this post when Google finally makes the announcement 🙂