Google has been feverishly working for several years to crack the local business advertising market, historically the domain of yellow pages publishers.  However, despite endless resources and top programming talent, Google has apparently concluded that you can’t organize information that doesn’t exist. There’s just not enough information available online on most of these small, locally-focused businesses.

 [Perhaps an indication of the poor accuracy of current Google searches].

Of course with boundless self-confidence (and billions in the bank), no problem seems insurmountable. That’s the genesis of Google’s new “Local Business Referral Program.” While there’s a sales element to this program, the bottom line is that Google is beginning to compile a proprietary national database of local businesses.

Google’s vision is to have a fleet of independent contractors running around the country, collecting information on local businesses and snapping pictures of them.  Bounty: $10 per listing if the company verifies the collected data. Job requirement are minimal: love of the Internet, access to a digital camera, and ability to fill out a W-9 that won’t get kicked back by the IRS.  There’s some indication that Google expects this supremely qualified force to “talk up” the benefits of advertising with Google, but this seems secondary to what is clearly a major data compilation exercise.  

[Why would Google bother; most of the data is available from public records or deals with business information suppliers and yellow pages publishers should be more accurate].

[Using cameras to collect location data on businesses is an old idea of the insurance industry. The idea was to equip D&B reporters with video cameras to take pictures of the business and surroundings.  It was deemed to be impractical at that time because the video camera technology 30 years ago was in its infancy].

Google does not appear to be assigning companies to its contractors to interview. If they should all decide to visit only pizza parlors and drug stores, that’s apparently okay to Google. Even more surprising is that Google won’t pay a contractor if some other contractor got to the company first. How many times will you have your work rejected before you give up in disgust? Similarly, after being hit up by multiple Google contractors for the same information, how many local businesses will conclude Google is not cutting edge, but out of control?

Of course, those in the business know that gathering data is nothing compared to maintaining it. I presume that Google expects all these businesses to self-maintain their data using a handy web page. If only the information business was that easy.

Though Google’s foray into the data business — at least in its early stage — seems a bit amateurish, it has now crossed the Rubicon. It has moved from organizing data to building proprietary databases, and seems willing to do so on a massive scale. While most of us have chosen to view Google as a “frenemy” to date, this is a profound move, perhaps more profound than even Google realizes. Source: Inforcommerce   web:

BIIA Newsletter October – 2007 Issue