Rumored Google Maps Changes Could Involve Google+

September 12th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Google Plus + Google MapsOver the weekend, I received a credible rumor from one of the larger companies I work with. Purportedly, they were contacted by their Google Ads rep and urged to purchase more advertising now, inadvance of some “big changes” planned to happen on October 1.

It’s still early, and I haven’t been able to confirm this rumor as of yet, despite putting out feelers to a number of sources. However, it feels believable because Google Plus has promised rollout of business Plus pages at some point, and it would make very good sense in the case of local businesses to have their Read the rest of this entry »

Guest Post At Bruce Clay’s Blog: 10 Image SEO Tips For Local

July 29th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

I was excited to be invited to write a guest piece over at Bruce Clay Inc’s blog this week, and my article on “10 Image Optimization Tips for Local SEO” provides a few ideas to help further enhance a small business’s local search signals.

Bruce Clay is of course a well-known and well-established technical search marketing expert who helped pioneer the field, and I recall reading his work and sitting in on his presentations at industry conferences from the very early days of SEO, back when I was working in obscurity within a big mega-corporation. So, it was a particular honor for me to be invited to foist my thoughts on — I mean contribute a professional article on — his blog!

In all seriousness, I’ve used Bruce Clay’s tools over time, and I believe his LocalPack business listing distribution service is well worthwhile for any business beginning to establish its listing information in major online directories and local search engines everywhere. (And, FYI, this was not a paid endorsement a quid pro quo endorsement by me — Bruce Clay’s people have not asked me to write about their products nor link to them, and I have no financial connection with them.)

LocalPack business listing citation distribution service at Bruce Clay Inc.

I’ve also particularly enjoyed reading work by the various other authors and editors who work at Bruce Clay Inc — Susan Esparza, Jessica Lee, and Virginia Nussey.

Thank you guys for inviting me in to participate on your blog, and making me feel welcome!

Google’s New Content Delivery Network (CDN)

July 29th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Google Page Speed Service - Content Delivery Network CDNI posted a piece about Google’s new “Page Speed Service” over on SEM Clubhouse this morning, and in it I describe a bit of how it will speed up websites and thus help with both SEO and user-experience. Those are mostly good things.

But, I go on to compare it a little with old AOL service processes. Like the old AOL service, which used to compress and cache webpages across the internet (sometimes changing those pages for the worse), the Google service is also a little disturbing in the “Big Brother” sense.

Google, through search, already occupies so much of consumers’ time on the internet, and it’s often the first leg or starting-off-point for many consumers’ web interactions. If large numbers of websites also use the Page Speed Service, then Google could be hosting the entire end-to-end experience for the internet.

If they start using their dark fiber network as part of the routing of this new Content Delivery Network, one’s internet usage moves partially off of the shared public grid onto a completely private network. Your user experience would not necessarily be altered, but it’s disturbing from the standpoint of it beginning to build a defacto “walled-garden” experience upon the infrastructure of a single company which begins to resemble the mother of all monopolies.

When an internet experience (or mobile access experience) is completely within a silo, it risks having all sorts of odd rules imposed upon it. Such as a lack of network neutrality, the forcible intrusion of unwanted ads, snooping, and outright suppression of materials not deemed to be in the best interests of the owner corporation.

While Google has been known for being more philosophically against censorship and suppression, and has been a supporter (to some degree) of net neutrality, the potential for issues if they own the end-to-end web experience expand exponentially. The old adage applies, regardless of good intentions: “It’s not wise to put all your eggs in one basket.”

Internet Company Getting Its Name Into Google Maps

June 21st, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Quite a few sites have reported on how Shiv Nagar, a village in India, has renamed itself “SnapDeal.com Nagar”, out of gratitude to the company which paid to give them running water. But, I don’t think anyone’s reported on how this is going to give SnapDeal.com a free mapvertisement in Google Maps and Bing Maps.

SnapDeal.com in Google Maps of India
Shiv Nagar, India, renamed itself SnapDeal.com

It appears that this was not intended to be a guerilla marketing tactic, but it is a defacto bit of commercial promotion, and once the town’s name becomes changed on maps it will become “mapvertising”.

As you may recall, I’ve written before about how corporate sponsorships can result in towns getting renamed after companies and products (here and here), and Read the rest of this entry »

Google Maps Hates Small Businesses By Launching Local Folksonomy Descriptive Terms

June 13th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Google has just announced that they’ve launched “Descriptive Terms” to appear with business listings in map search results. According to them, these descriptive terms are some of the most common terms found in user reviews, blogs, web pages and other online references which describe the business. For instance, if you search for “Barbeque Restaurants”, you might see a business which lists such items as “banana pudding”, “pork chops”, “texas style”, “baked potato” and “chicken poppers”:

BBQ Restaurant Descriptive Terms

So, the cool part of this idea is that the feature will highlight user-generated terms which are frequently used in reference to the business. This is a type of an ontology formed by the vox populi, or common man. More properly, these Descriptive Terms begin forming what’s known as a “folksonomy“, which started coming into vogue with social media, particularly around the concept of tag clouds.

(It’s very slightly ironic that Google Maps has now deployed what are essentially small tag clouds with business listings, since I’ve heard some Google Engineers mildly disparage tag clouds as being potentially un-userfriendly and potentially bad on sites in some cases!)

But, the really UNCOOL part of the new Descriptive Terms is that Google appears to’ve launched these willy-nilly without properly safeguarding against sensitive/bad terms that they can end up highlighting.

With very minor testing, I can see numerous instances where the terms selected by the algorithm are inappropriate and unfairly damaging to the businesses. Read the rest of this entry »

Penises Invade Google Maps ♂

June 10th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

So, we’ve seen UFOs in Google Maps, illegal activites, marriage proposals, earth art, and more. Since I’ve reported on all sorts of cool things to see in Google Maps (including corn field mazes, advertisements, and more), I’ve decided to also report on the latest — a juvenile prank that’s now gotten a lot more publicity than was perhaps originally imagined. Yes, I’m sad to say that penises have now invaded Google Maps!

Penises in Google Maps

It seems that some students at New Zealand’s Fairfield College decided it would be funny to lay down phallic patterns of weedkiller on the school’s lawns, according to Stuff.co.nz. By the time the landscaping maintenance personnel realized what had happened, the penis-shaped patterns were already showing up. The maintenance people tried obliterating the definition of the patterns with more weedkiller, apparently killing all the grass.

But, not before Google’s satellite/aerial cameras caught the scenes. Read the rest of this entry »

Locksmith Spam Listing Issue

May 23rd, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

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, Read the rest of this entry »

White House Situation Room Photo Accidentally Reveals Government Secret

May 5th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

The photo released by the White House depicting President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden along with members of the national security team during a briefing on the mission to capture or kill terrorist Osama Bin Laden is rapidly rocketing up to becoming the most-viewed photo on Flickr of all time:

White House Situation Room During Osama Bin Laden Capture Mission

The photo is fascinating for capturing what must’ve been breathless moments when the President, the military and our covert operations organizations wondered if the long search for Osama would at last prove successful.

But, what immediately caught my eye were the documents cast casually before Clinton in the photo — what were they of, and could they be revealing more than the government intended in a picture released to the public? At a glance, I expected they were satellite and/or aerial photos of the compound that Osama had built for himself to hide in. The caption paragraph of the photo page on Flickr apparently even refers directly to it, saying, “Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured.” That really draws attention to it! It must be something interesting/cool, if it must be hidden!

I clicked on the magnifying-glass button in Flickr, to view that section of the photo with larger resolution. When viewing the original size, you can see that, indeed, the top document has been pixelated out:

Obscured Document, Situation Room - Mission To Capture Osama bin Laden

As a side note, isn’t it interesting that there are special White House coffee cups, apparently, with the presidential seal on them? Apparently they don’t do Starbucks at the White House.

I still wonder, though, did they obscure it enough? It’s not unusual for the government to redact sensitive words or other information out of documents, but in this high-tech world it’s moderately risky to allow out photos, even when you try to blur out sensitive information. As I’ve proved before, blurring and pixelation can sometimes be reversed. The type of blurring or bitmapping done to the White House Situation Room photo is pretty lossy — the person who did it would no doubt believe it could not be reversed, since so much information from that area of the photo has been discarded in the process.

Yet, in that part of the picture alone, one could apply image algorithms which would attempt to reverse out the blurring by trying to enhance the elements of the picture that are left. This requires a form of interpolation to rebuild/replace the many pixels in between the blocks of color which resulted from an averaging of the original pixels. For each large block of continuous color, there were originally many pixels in their place which got combined/averaged into a median color. From the lighting in the photo, the color of each pixel, and the context of colors around each, an algorithm could attempt to interpolate and rebuild the picture. Interpolation is a form of mathematical guesswork, so there’s a high degree of inaccuracy involved — even so, the results can be surprising at times.

There are even more advanced algorithms which can reduce noise out of images (such as for medical imaging) or which can build out missing parts of photographic images based upon photographic commonalities. Read the rest of this entry »

How To Get A Screen Grab From An Android Phone

April 20th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith
Android Phone Screen Grab of Google Search Results

Screen Grab from an Android Phone

I was writing an article this week for my upcoming Locals Only column at Search Engine Land (“Google Instant Provides A Hint For Local & Mobile Optimization“), and I experienced the mildly flummoxing issue of being unable to take screen grabs from my Android phone (I use an HTC Thunderbolt ‘droid) to use as examples in the article. I followed the instructions found on a few webpages and forums which described how to go about it in a seemingly-straightforward manner, but after following their instructions, I seemed to keep getting an error where the software (called “DDMS”) just kept closing right after launch. It would start opening a window which would just blink closed immediately. Galling.

I discovered what the solution to the problem was, so I thought I’d share it here. I saw a number of people on other forums and sites which described the same exact issue where the Android software would seem to crash on launch, mystifying them. No one seemed to post any solutions.

Getting screencaps from your Android cellphone would seem to be something very easy to accomplish, but it’s an ellusive function. There are Android apps which provide this functionality, but they require you to have root admin access on your phone. Rooting your phone shouldn’t be necessary, just to get a screengrab! While I’m confident I could do this without breaking my phone’s core functionality, it apparently negates warranty and goes against the phone’s terms and conditions.

The solution most sites list requires that you load the Android developer toolkit, or “SDK”, which is used by those who want to program apps for Droid phones. As part of the development kit, there are a couple of ways to obtain screengrabs (App pages in the Marketplace often show a few representative screen grabs of the app interfaces, so developers would naturally need to be able to obtain the screen caps without having to photograph their phones separately.) Read the rest of this entry »

Lock & Door Contractor Blames SuperMedia Yellow Pages For Their Own Bad Service

March 30th, 2011 by Chris Silver Smith

Yellow Pages & LocksThe Morning Call in Pennsylvania reports about how “Always In Service”, a lock and door company, have run afoul of customers and the state’s attorney general office. In fact the attorney general’s office is suing them alleging the company misled customers into believing it was near their homes; charged more than estimated prices; failed to provide itemized bills; did poor work; and didn’t do work that was paid for.

Now Always In Service is suing SuperMedia, claiming the yellow pages company’s sales reps were trained to be deceptive to Always In Service and that they had advised them to buy local phone numbers with and advertise those numbers so customers would think the company was local.

As I’ve touched upon before and as others have covered, the locksmiths industry (among other types of businesses) have had a lot of trouble with the creation of bogus online business listings or listings which are engineered to deceive consumers into thinking a company is local to them. While it sounds like Always In Service isn’t exactly a locksmith service, they would appear to be operating in a closely-related field. Read the rest of this entry »