September 6th, 2011

Solving The Listings Problem

There’s been a lot of buzz about the NY Times article since last night, and I even offered my take on how big this Listings Problem is – our studies show over 20% of listings have the wrong information.  I was inspired by Andrew Shotland’s comment that we think we’ll save the day, and Frank Reed’s piece in Marketing Pilgrim, so now I’ll talk a little more about a model that could solve the listings problem.

Accurately tracking listing information on 20 million businesses is a huge undertaking.  In order to deal with this mass of information, publishers like Google have leveraged the power of user generated content. Leveraging the masses to generate content is a brilliant mechanism to quickly create masses of content.  It works well for speed, and is particularly good for subjective content.  Things like reviews, tips, analysis of politics – you can rely on users to provide you their opinion on a particular business or topic.  However, the model is far less effective for objective content.  What happens when users disagree on whether a business is either closed or it is not?  The phone number for a business?  The date of George Washington’s death? (December 14, 1799).  Generally, these are all irrefutable facts, and user generated content is a less than optimal system for validation.

We need look no further than the biggest source of user generated content ever, Wikipedia, to prove my point.  It used to be that anyone could edit anything.  This was a great time to play pranks, since anyone could edit any page and immediately see their changes.  Over time, their system changed.  Today, a small group of editors review and control all changes according to a rigid set of standards.  And the quality of the information is vastly superior to what it was before.

In local search, the same underlying principle applies.  Every business listing has objective content – business name, address, phone number, hours of operation, etc.  This content is generally irrefutable, and the best and only authoritative source for this information is the business itself.  Subjective content –reviews, tips, certain kinds of photos and others – are best left to the users to generate.

It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one.  We invented the PowerListings system to solve this problem.  We’re an open third party system that businesses can rely on to put them in control of their objective listings content across our network.   Subjective content like reviews, tips, and other opining is best left up to the masses of users who have visited the business, and as a neutral party we will never have any influence on it.

Putting businesses in control of objective stuff and then letting the users make the grade is the winning formula.

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