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The Local New Year's Resolution I Wish Eric Schmidt Would Make

Eric Schmidt, Google
It’s 2009! It’s time for out with the old and in with the new. The ‘old’ I’d like to see sink below the horizon is this business of Google sailing an unmanned ship in Local waters. The ‘new’ I’d like to see is a staffed Local Business Center with meaningful help for the small businesses who have become a fat pat of the butter on Google’s bread.
See the little icon on Google’s most recent and very pretty Maps interface? It represents a man – a person. The idea of personhood is being given a new and powerful prominence in this application. Click on the little man and he will walk you through Downtown, YourTown, showing you all of the small businesses you might visit.
But what would happen if Mr. Person stepped off his StreetView track and into all these shops and there was nobody there to talk to? He finds himself alone in unfamiliar environments, surrounded by objects he doesn’t really understand, and when he calls out for assistance – in hopes that perhaps someone’s in the back room of the shop – no help arrives. I believe that Mr. Person would start to feel dehumanized and voiceless. Mr. Person would be having the experience of the small business owner featured in Mike Blumenthal’s latest post on the failings of the Google Local Business Center

They will not send a postcard to my NJ office for a SC location. They will not call a NJ phone for a SC location. They will not allow me ot change the listing until they verify, but when they tried to call it was unsuccesful and I don’t know why. (the number is correct) I’m at a total loss… and quite frustrated. Please…

At A Total Loss…And Quite Frustrated
Such has been the vocabulary of too many of the 20,983 posts sitting in the Troubleshooting section of Google Maps Help Group, and it has also been the lingo of nearly every Local Search specialist I’ve spoken to regarding Google’s Local entity in 2008. I think we all agree that Mr. Person needs more than a place on the map; he needs a real place in Google’s business model that guarantees him fair representation as a businessman and accurate data as a user of the Local index. Mr. Person needs to stop being an icon, a mere transient idea in the Google workshop. He needs to be treated with the deference due the key ingredient in all locally-oriented directories. He needs to be given some power.
A phone number, an email address, a live chat box, a form to fill out guaranteed of a non-automated reply in order to report problems with local business listings; any of these things would empower Mr. Person as he navigates the Local environment. He doesn’t need it to be fancy. Functional would be fine.
Shouldn’t 2009 be the year Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his colleagues in Mountainview take this simple yet powerful stand for the dignity of the human person by giving him a genuine voice in the Google conversation that is having such a tremendous impact on the success or failure of his local business? Who can rejoice in an imbalanced power structure where all of the talk and decision making goes on at the top of the pyramid while all of the important effects are felt down at ground level by the man on the street? It may have seemed like a good setup to the Incas, but democracy and fair play are better themes for a 21st century take on human rights, and the right to have one’s business fairly represented is a basic that should stand at the very heart of any Local venture undertaken in the Google Empire.
3 Steps To A Better Google Local
Educate – In 2008, less than 10 of the scores of small business owners I spoke to knew, prior to speaking to me, what the Local Business Center was. Not one of the clients we took on had claimed their listing prior to working with us. If Google intends to continue giving top billing to local business data in their Universal SERPs, the time has come to explain to the public what this is all about and what they need to do to participate and protect their professional reputations. Run a national TV commercial. Put a big notice on the Google homepage. Start an email campaign. Get the message to the people that the LBC exists and that small business owner participation is required in order to avoid the devastating pitfalls of misrepresentation, competitive hijacking and lost income.
Communicate – It simply isn’t ethical to make advertising revenue by representing businesses whom you refuse to communicate with. If the 10-pack and Maps entities were opt-in/opt-out business models, that would be a different story, but taking and displaying business data without notifying the owner of the business and then leaving him no option to communicate with you about what you’ve done with his data is high-handed and unfair. It’s time for Google to start doing business ‘for reals’. Create a functional way for small business owners to report and gain speedy resolution to errors in their business data. This can’t be automated. Real people must staff this in order to protect the rights and livelihood of business owners. This isn’t a game…it’s real business, involving real money and real people. I see no two ways about this.
Acquire It – If Google can’t internally create a staff to handle the support system which ought to be manning the LBC, why not acquire an existent business with the technology and people already in place? It worked when Google bought YouTube, right? How about buying Yelp or Merchant Circle? Goodness knows, they love phoning small business owners. On second thought, how about buying some lesser known local directory company with a more savory reputation? Pay them to staff the phones, the live chat, the forum. Pay them to resolve all of these errors that are plaguing the LBC and making life a pain for small business owners who have already had it up-to-here with economic stresses. If Google genuinely cannot create a staff that will befriend and assist the local business owners who are the filling in Google’s pie, Google should acquire an existent business that is ready to do the job.
In just 3 simple steps, we could see a better, more ethical Google. It’s the New Year’s resolution I’d love to see them make.