Battling Google Places Quality Guidelines

For several months, I seemed to have the Mammoth Media entry existing quite happily on Google Places (formerly known as “Local Business Centre”). Then at some point it stopped being displayed, and I couldn’t figure out why – the request was denied with the message that we didn’t meet their “quality guidelines”. Unfortunately, this is a large, somewhat vague document (available here), so it was quite frustrating that they didn’t explicitly list which part of these guidelines were actually being violated.

I was just trying to do a very simple entry with nothing fancy – just the company name, address, website, phone number, plus some of the other defaults. Still had no luck, and I could see many other people were having the same problem. I left it in frustration for a few months and came back to it thinking a fresh perspective might help.

I finally realised that it might be having weirdness issues because I had created the ‘Places’ entry under my own personal Gmail account, rather than one that was bound to the domain that I was listing in the entry. After that, I tried using a generic Google account with a email address, went through the authorisation process, and bam – it was up and working instantly.

I am not sure at what point it changed (perhaps it never really worked), but if you’re trying to create your Google Places page with a personal Gmail/Google account and you’re running into problems with the quality guidelines, try creating a new Google account that has, as its username, a full valid email address from your real domain, and see if that helps.

Google’s Attempt at Community Mapping

Google’s LatLong blog has announced Google MapMaker, their foray into community-driven mapping for the Google Maps site.

It’s only open for editing in a few countries at the moment – places like Iceland, Jamaica, and the Barbados, which we can assume have limited coverage already. It seems safe to assume this will be expanded in the near future to include more areas.

The OpenGeoData blog has a few scathing things to say about it:Google have launched MapMaker, a kind of faux OpenStreetMap where they own all the data and you’re only allowed to map in certain Freedom Of Speech Zones.

Like Knol, the mooted ‘wikipedia killer’, Google refuse to acknowledge existing communities, trample on their hard work and lack the mindset to engage with an open project. The OpenStreetMap project is a ridiculously awesome open collaboration between people all around the world that are trying to solve the problem of outdated and expensive maps for GPS systems.

They have a Google Maps-esque system where you can look at the maps online, as well as a comprehensive Wiki that explains how to use the maps. Obviously there’s a lot of incentive for the normal consumer GPS devices to not be readily compatible with these things as they no doubt make a killing selling you maps – but hopefully this sort of data will inevitably become the norm.

Check out this animation showing how the level of available maps has grown over the last few years (it’ll look like a black page for a while, but give it a second – it’s loading).

As soon as time permits I would love to get involved; if not directly then certainly by looking at some sort of sponsorship or competition via AusGamers to get other people interested that might have a bit more spare time than I do.

In the meantime, if you’re going to spend your time working on maps that you want to make available, I’d strongly encourage you to give Google a miss on this one. Putting it on OpenStreetMap means your work will be available to be used much more freely – all work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

Why doesn’t Google just make all their maps available under Creative Commons? Well, the most likely explanation is that they’re not Google’s maps – they presumably don’t own them outright and just have a license to use them on their site.

That said, there’s nothing stopping them from using the OpenStreetMaps system as a supplementary data system and encouraging people to contribute to it – well, other than the fact that this way they get to own all the data and use it as they see fit. Maybe they’ll open it up in other ways later down the track though.