Cleaning up my digital neighborhood

My neighborhood undergone a lot of change in the three years I’ve lived here. It’s been very exciting to see new businesses come in and sad to see some old favorites go away. (I’m still puzzled as to how the tombstone store stays in business in a neighborhood where a 1 bedroom condo runs $400k.)

All this makes local search virtually useless. I tried to clean up my digital neighborhood the other day by identifying businesses that have closed.

Knowing what businesses have gone under since the last Acxiom or InfoUSA update is more valuable than reviews. There are few worse experiences that local search can provide than sending people to business that don’t exist.

But most local search sites don’t make it easy to provide this input:

  • Yahoo! has a multi-step process.
  • AOL has a link to report closed businesses but it takes you to a nonexistent page.
  • Google doesn’t have an option.

Part of the reason they make it difficult is fear that pranksters (or competitors) will erroneously report that businesses have closed.

There are a number of ways around this:

  • Let users police the listings. Display user reported closures as “unverified” and allow other users to agree or disagree. Have a line on the listing that says something like “This business has been reported closed by 25 users.” At the very least, this will signal to users that they should call first.
  • Use telephone verification. This can be automated to a degree. If the business closes up shop entirely, chances are the phone has been disconnected and calling the number will result in a three tone. Calls that are answered can be routed to a call center.
  • Use direct mail verification.

About Rakesh Agrawal

Rakesh Agrawal is Senior Director of product at Amazon (Audible). Previously, he launched local and mobile products for Microsoft and AOL. He tweets at @rakeshlobster.
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