Archive for the ‘General Commentary’ Category

The Occupy Protesters Google-Bombed Maps

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

The Atlantic Wire reported that Occupy Oakland protesters managed to get the name of Frank H. Ogawa Plaza to be changed in Google Maps to “Oscar Grant Plaza” — the name they dubbed it in remembrance of a man killed by BART police on New Years in 2009.

After media began noticing the unofficial name appearing in Google Maps, Google apparently corrected the error. I just did the search, and the plaza is showing the official name within the map, although you can see from the tooltip that some user had been encouraging people to post ratings under the protesters’ nickname for the place:

Oscar Grant Plaza in Google Maps

A Google spokesperson admitted that the name came from user-submitted edits, and that it shouldn’t have been approved, but should have been allowed as a “search reference”. I’ll translate: Google should not have pasted the name on the map as an official place-name, but should have allowed it to be added to their synonym database so that people searching on the name could easily find the location it refers to. As you can see from my screen-grab, it is now functioning as a search reference.

Concerningly, this incident supports what I have been saying, along with others, that Google Maps is particularly prone to Google-bombing from user-submitted content (“UGC”) edits. As I illustrated recently from Mike Blumenthal’s experiment to flag Google HQ as closed, some types of edits can result in businesses getting their listings defaced with false claims that they’re no longer open, and in even worse cases business Place Pages could get forced to rank for obnoxious terms, and labeled with descriptive terms that sabotage business referrals.

I could argue that it’s actually improper for the plaza to be made to rank for the unofficial name in this place, under the condition of a purposeful Google-bombing exploit. I can also argue that it’s useful and helpful for users to be able to search for places under their common nicknames and alternative spellings. But, I bend more towards this being an inappropriate association in this case. The edits were a type of vandalism intended to hijack place-names in maps in order to convey a political message represented by what was probably a relative minority (assuming the Occupy Oakland protest was a part of the nationwide protest movements sparked by Occupy Wall Street, it’s hard to fathom what a police killing in 2009 has to do with the outrage against corporate corruption and economic problems, other than perhaps some desire to kick up the drama a notch or to appeal to a subset of protesters who desire to associate themselves with a sort of iconic martyrdom).

Considering how there are relatively few checks and balances in place, it’s really not surprising that a mob of people can hijack a place name in Google Maps and change it to communicate their political message. This sort of thing is happening on a much smaller scale to hundreds and thousands of businesses which are unfairly harmed by similarly applied user edits.

While it’s great that consumers have a greater voice in this Business 2.0 age, I think some more balance needs to be brought back to “The Force” by way of limiting the easy manipulation of Google Places and it’s vulnerability to such exploits.

Locksmith Spam Listing Issue

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I recently wrote a piece about how to bite back at local scam businesses over at Natural Search Blog, but one of the more difficult variety of scams are the faux local business listings that Google Places fights. And, ever since people first began scamming listing rankings in print yellow pages, the worst sector affected is that of Locksmiths.

Quite a number of locksmith listings are for business locations which do not exist or do not have locksmiths’ offices there. Some listings are blatent — they are locations where there are no businesses at all — while others are more subtle, being shopping centers or office buildings which have no locksmith shops in them.

Why do the scammers do this? Well, they figured out that in order to have placement in local search results, (more…)

Voynich Manuscript News

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

In the last week, BoingBoing caught my eye by reporting how University of Arizona researchers have announced a new piece of information discovered about the Voynich Manuscript. For those who don’t know, the Voynich Manuscript is one of the world’s biggest mysteries and most-interesting books of all time. Trick is, no one can read it.

The book was discovered in modern times (1912) by a rare books dealier, Wilfrid Voynich, and later after his death it was donated to Yale University (1969).

The book consists of a number of pages with writing and some illustrations divided into sections covering subjects which appear to include Astrology, Herbology, Pharmaceutical, Cosmology, and Medicine. The writing resembles Latinate scripts at first glance, but one quickly realizes that the letters don’t conform to known languages, and even the sequences of words formed by the letters are very odd and do not seem to conform to familiar language patterns. The weird illustrations, with sort of psychedelic combinations of people, plants and tubes, tubs and pipes are puzzling. Are they illustrating biological processes of movements of biles and humors? Are they explaining some weird machinery or alchemical process? The other diagrams of stars and cosmologies in combination make it even stranger:

Voynich Manuscript, Cosmology Page

Over the course of years, the manuscript has been analyzed by many linguists, cryptographers, experts and other hobbyists with no one satisfactorily breaking the code or language that may be involved.

I’ve written before about the Voynich Manuscript, and it continues (more…)

Hypercube!

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Oskar van Deventer's hypercubeOkay, I really want one of these — it’s a 17 x 17 x 17 Rubic’s Cube style puzzle:

The puzzle is by Oskar van Deventer, and it can be found here.

I’ll risk exposing how geeky I am by explaining that the original Rubic’s Cube became a super-popular pop culture icon back when I was in middle school and high school. And, in high school, a small handful of us used to compete to see who was the fastest at solving messed-up Rubik’s Cubes. I think I came in (more…)

Yellowbook Layoff

Monday, January 31st, 2011

I continue to hear rumors and rumblings of big changes in the yellow pages industry, and it seems like almost anything could happen in terms of restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. I just learned of a layoff at Yellowbook over the weekend — according to the news report they are saying they’ll cut 70 jobs, nationwide.

Yellowbook Yellow Pages Company

There were very recent rumors that Yellowbook might be sold by Yell company, and that it could be an acquisition target for some other major companies. The layoffs are further underscoring unrest and change at the company, so there could be something to the M&A rumors. Some possible buyers have been theorized, including Google and Yellow Pages Group.

I’ve also heard AT&T’s name floated about as potentially interested in Yellowbook — they keep getting whispered about as a possible suitor for buying some of the big YPs. As I reported earlier, AT&T might acquire Dex One and/or SuperMedia.

My theorizing of a “trifecta merger” for AT&T/Dex/Superpages smacks more than a bit of pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking for faltering yellow pages companies, but could we go even farther out there and ask if AT&T might be doing a giant roll-up strategy that brings Yellowbook into the mix as well? (more…)

Happy New Year’s Day 2011!

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Google’s “doodle” logo for New Year’s Day today has the “OOGL” of the logo replaced with Roman numerals for two-thousand-and-eleven, and the background of it is full of fireworks going off:

Google New Year's Day Logo, January 1, 2011

Though not as well known, the letter “G” was also used as a shorthand Roman numeral in the Middle Ages to represent four-hundred, and the uppercase “E” was used to denote two-hundred-fifty. If we included these two numbers, the sequence might be read as 2011 – 400 + 250 = 1861. (more…)

Did TechCrunch’s Leaked Image Expose Their Google Informant?

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

I was lured into reading a TechCrunch story tonight which purports to expose a new social media utility called Google +1, and I happened to see that they had blurred out the Google username in the upper right corner, likely intending to obscure the identity of their informant who leaked the screengrab image to them.

When glancing at the leaked image fully expanded, it appeared to me that the blurring of the name was somewhat insufficient, and the letters appeared tantalizingly near to being recognizable. I couldn’t help but wonder: could the blurring be reversed?

With extremely minor image manipulation, I found that the blurred name indeed could be reversed, perhaps just sufficiently to make identification possible. Of course, the image could have been taken by a different employee, so I have redacted the altered picture.

[Image redacted upon consideration, because I do not wish to accidentally impugn a possibly-noninvolved person.]

Curious, I thought to cross-reference with LinkedIn, and indeed, I found a Software Engineer at Google whose name resembled the de-blurred pic.

(more…)

Night Hotel: My Stay In A New York City Goth Theme Hotel

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Night Hotel, New York, NYSo, this week I stayed at the Night Hotel in Manhattan while I attended the SMX East Conference. I’d registered too late to stay in one of the conference’s negotiated-price hotels (the Sheraton Towers), and I found the Night Hotel had similar pricing. (Besides, the Sheraton had a negative report in the Bedbug Registry, while the Night Hotel was gloriously free of such demerits!) I love all things Goth, so I looked forward to this opportunity!

The Night Hotel is one of Vikram Chatwal‘s luxury hotels, and it’s billed as having a Film Noire / Goth theme — very appropriate for “Gotham City”! I could easily see this being off-putting to many potential guests as potentially too disturbing or scary to be restful, while simultaneously being intriguing to many others such as myself. Also, it could easily be concerning, since a theme hotel could be high on concept and low on customer service. So, here’s my review of the place, along with pics!

The hotel is located at 132 West 45th Street, just off Times Square in Midtown, NYC. The exterior of the hotel is cool, with blackened windows and a giant gothic “N” logo banner that has slowly flashing backlighting.

Night Hotel Sign

I arrived, checked-in and went straight up to my room. I’m somewhat impressed by the room’s swipe card right off the bat, since it has a mini-map imprinted on the reverse side: (more…)

Artist Friend Margaret Withers’ New Blog

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

My good friend, Margaret Withers, has just launched her blog: Compound Artist Margaret Withers.

bacterial monster figure :: by Margaret Withers, 2010

bacterial monster figure :: © by Margaret Withers

I’m really quite proud of her — she is a do-it-yourselfer when it comes to marketing, and she’s got a fantastic instinct for it. Blogs are a great way to promote and represent one’s self, and a great way to create a dialogue with the online community.

I’ve often found that visual artists frequently avoid writing much, which is a loss to the community as a whole since it results in a sort of “silence” around their work as well as reduces the overall promotion benefit they might otherwise gain. It’s not surprising, really — most independent artists already have so many claims on their time, what with creating their art, schmoozing with gallery owners, operating small business paperwork, planning showings, preparing for showings, and more. Anything which reduces the time they can spend on creating art is often resented, and for many of them, writing falls into that category.

However, Margaret has always been effective at treating writing as yet another medium for art, and her infrequent writings involving art criticism (more…)

SuperMedia & Dex One To Cross-Pollinate: Precursor To A Merger?

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

This morning, Greg Sterling reports that SuperMedia and Dex One have entered into a distribution agreement, allowing listings and business content from Superpages to be displayed on DexKnows and vice-versa.

The first thought I had upon reading this was that it’s likely a precursor to a possible merger between the two companies, a little further on down the road.

SuperMedia, Yellow Pages publisher of Superpages.com       Dex One, Yellow Pages publisher of DexKnows and Business.com

I’ve been predicting some collapse amongst the players in the yellow pages industry for quite a few years now, and I’ve even stongly suggested (see: What Could Save The Yellow Pages? 10 Ideas) that some of the large YP directory companies might want to merge in order to reduce costs and improve their competitive strength.

There’s also been talk among financial analysts about how the hedge fund, (more…)