My daughter had a swollen infected face on a holiday morning, so I looked up nearby walk-in clinics on Google Maps. The one I picked was deserted, efficient, and kind. Afterward, without even thinking about it, I tapped a good review into the map. Then I wondered if I might be part of a really big problem.

On Google · I’m still broadly in sympathy with Google’s efforts on the Internet, which have mostly made it better. And they’re so easy to understand: They want everyone to be online all the time to see ads, ideally on a Google property where they don’t have to divvy the take.

Autonomous vehicles? Online while driving. Google Glass? Online while walking. Blogspot? Gmail? Maps? YouTube? Whatever you’re doing, do it here please.

On reviews · Crowdsourced reviews are, on balance, a Good Thing. Sure, for anything you care deeply about, there are specialist pubs with writing by educated pros: DPReview, Wirecutter, Stereophile, and so on.

But for shopping sites, travel sites, anything sites, a good review infrastructure that inspires trust is a huge value-add.

But, for hardware stores? Clinics? Gastropubs? In fact, anything you use a map for? It dawns on me that I’ve started consulting those reviews that pop up on every map search; because they’re useful. And now, I’ve written one. And did Google ever let me know they were happy; unctuous thanks, gentle encouragement to do it again.

Google’s dominance in the map space never bothered me because the product, by and large, is very good. Maps would be very near the top of any list of apps I value and use the most. But the potential commercial power in that review inventory is awesomely, frighteningly, high. I thought of a few ways you might monetize it and they all left bad tastes in my mouth. On top of which, it’s a moat around Maps, making it hard for a competitive technology — this is the first generation of online mapping, of course there are huge improvements to come — to get a foothold.

Me declining to review places won’t bend any curves. But now I don’t feel so good about doing it.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Cowan (Jun 30 2017, at 12:38)

My podiatrist told me that he had good reason to believe that some of the negative reviews about him were written by paid agents of his competitors.

After working briefly for an adtech company, I've come to see that the Dark Side of the Web is not confined to the "dark web" by any means. We get a lot of information from people whose interests are adverse to ours. This is why I'm not happy with things like Cortana/Siri/Alexa/Google Assistant: the people who own them are not in it to benefit us.


From: Peter (Jun 30 2017, at 14:18)

This article from the New York Times discusses how much effort is required to keep Google Maps free from phony business listings. Which in itself is proof of the business value that maps hold.


From: Liam Quin (Jun 30 2017, at 18:23)

Once a company achieves sufficient control of the marketplace to have an effective monopoly they can continue to grow primarily by cutting costs and increasing prices. This usually means reducing quality. The so-called free market, in other words, leads to situations where individual consumers lose out.

My favourite map service was an early casualty to Google's simpler interface, but they had higher quality maps (fewer errors, more detail, clearer typography). All too often in Rural Canada the map shows only a single road with no visible label - zoom out enough to find the label, then try to zoom in so you can read the label without it being moved off-screen as you zoom, then follow the road back to where you were.

I agree with you about the insidious side to the reviews. Furthermore, sites that pay Google for advertising may be more likely to get shown on Google maps, hence more likely to get reviews. So its a positive feedback loop. Vide recent European decision against Google. But evil is inherent in public corporations.


From: Peter Rushforth (Jul 01 2017, at 05:11)

Centralization of the Web sucks, and Maps are one of the biggest culprits. One of the reasons maps never had another option is lack of a map media type. I know, KML. But no, its not really a map after all, its a globe, and its still pretty centralized. So we're aiming to fix that over in the Maps for HTML Community Group, where we're working on MapML, a *MicroXML* vocabulary for 2d maps. Check us out:


From: George M (Jul 02 2017, at 23:41)

> [Google Maps] is the first gen­er­a­tion of on­line map­ping

Surely second generation? When Google Maps came out it was an enormous step up from the previous web maps in terms of speed and usability, eg being able to drag in any direction.

Don't disagree with your main message though.


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