Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Handling the Digital Death — Or Not — Of a Business

When I tried to take some newly arrived San Franciscans out to brunch this weekend, we were almost foiled. Little did I know that the restaurant I’d hoped to meet them at had permanently closed, and that Google had a weird, erroneous current listing for it with an address across town. When I arrived to see a notice on the door at the closed brunch spot, my friends called to say that they were turning onto Union Street — 20 minutes away. Oops!

Online acknowledgement of the death of a commercial establishment is perhaps not as touchy a subject as how the Web handles the death of a person — but it’s still pretty awkward.

The New York Times had a story this weekend on a different flavor of this problem: When enough users tag a Google Place listing as “closed,” Google believes them, so lots of people apparently abuse this crowdsourced privilege. The proprietors are most definitely not happy to learn that they’re “closed,” and that they’re presumably losing business from Google searchers. Apparently these pranks are less common on less-used Bing and Yahoo.

“In the last four days, I’ve hit that ‘not true’ button every six to eight hours,” said Daniel Navejas of RBI Divorce Lawyers of El Paso. “It’s getting old.”

In mid-August, a search consultant and blogger named Mike Blumenthal was so rankled by what he considered Google’s cavalier attitude to closings on Google that he committed an act of online disobedience: He “closed” Google’s offices in Mountain View, Calif. For a brief period, Google itself was “reportedly closed,” according to Places. “I did it to point out how annoying this is when it happens,” he said.

Google told the New York Times it’s working to prevent “malicious or incorrect labeling,” and that it has already started emailing business owners to alert them when users say they’ve closed.

Dead or fake dead, Google should probably be better at getting these things right. For today, my friends’ wild goose chase ended at another brunch spot across the street, whose openness I personally verified by walking over to check.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work