Google’s Nearby Search Function Adds Strength to Its Online Review Service

Last Friday, Google released the “Search Nearby Me” function in its search options panel. This new search function helps people find relevant search results based on their real-time geographic location instead of solely searching based on key words. I vaguely remember at sometime point last week, when I was Googling something, a toolbar box popped up asking me if I wanted to disclose my location to Google. Sure, I clicked. Now when I try to use this new function to find Chinese restaurants, a bunch of restaurants near my default location (you can set custom locations too) pop up, along with local Chinese restaurant information from popular review sites like Yelp and 10Best.com.

What I found most handy from this function is that it also pulls in the combined information of local Chinese restaurants that have registered with Google’s Local Business Center, with their locations showing up in the Google Map. The scary part of this is that once you click into any of these restaurants, not only are their location, hours, price and other useful basic information displayed, but like an octopus, Google has also compiled a list of ratings and reviews of that restaurant from other review sites. And if you sign in with your Google account, you can write a review of it right away on the spot. So far I have seen reviews pulled from couple websites like 10best, Trip Advisor, Yahoo Local and Urbanspoon, but I have not seen any reviews directly pulled from Yelp. Does Yelp not allow Google to aggregate their reviews? What is the deal here?

With this Google Nearby search function, the pace of local businesses building their presence online may only accelerate. Having a profile registered with Google’s Local Business Center will soon become a must for any business that wants to be searchable and survive the intertwining offline and online world.

The Google Nearby location-based search function shows how aggressively Google is in approaching the local business review sector pioneered by Yelp. Google has encroached upon the property of traditional media’s online content and news, then pulled in social media feeds (via Google’s recent incorporation of the social media feeds into its search results), and now they are reaching into the reputation-review systems that was mainly supported by online review sites. Right now, I think the biggest weapons that review sites like Yelp can use to fight back against Google are the communities inhabiting their sites, whose users passionately contribute their reviews there instead of on a broader Google review platform. Google’s services are almost too ubiquitous. Users with Google accounts hardly view themselves as valued members of a “Google community”, thus Google can hardly enjoy the stickiness brought by the social side of a community. But in the long run, with Google’s efforts to build a giant system that covers every aspect of people’s online activities, it is likely that Google may still win in these aspects of web services due to its overwhelming scale.

From Google Wave to Google Buzz… or Vice-Versa?



Google Buzz has been around for about two weeks now, and some of my tech savvy friends on Buzz have already mastered it like they did for Twitter, using it as a broadcast tool to create word-of-mouth effect for their brands or events. Many websites like Mashable have also become early adopters of Buzz, actively promoting it alongside the ubiquitous “follow us” Twitter and Facebook buttons. For now, I am still resisting the urge to Buzz my contacts, in contrast to my continued usage of Twitter as a public announcement tool, because I do not feel like being force fed by Buzz messages (Susan discussed this problem in length here), thus I am also very hesitant to possibly force feed my friends.



Another serious issue with Buzz is its privacy problem. Because the default opt-in settings disclose people’s close contacts to the rest of the world, this has irritated many people as an intrusion to their privacy. But through my conversation with a friend who has been using Google Wave, he brought up an interesting point that the opt-in existing contacts function in Buzz might be a lesson Google learned from their experiment with Wave. He thinks that the reason Wave has so far failed (relatively) as a social networking/messaging platform is because the nature of its “closed Beta” means each user does not immediately have enough existing contacts to connect with and keep the momentum for the Wave experience going. This might be a universal problem for any closed beta platform, but it is extremely disruptive for a social network platform. He thinks Google probably wanted to avoid the same problem with Buzz, so by default it opted in a user’s existing circle of friends so people could immediately connect and communicate.


Considering the pressure Google is facing from other Social Network Site, this opt-in is an understandable business move to quickly connect users. But in relation to Google’s recent threats to leave China over protecting its users’ privacy and freedom of speech, this action may seem a bit self-contradictory. Georgetown University Research Fellow Evgeny Morozov commented in his blog Net Effect:


“I am yet to hear a Google executive mention privacy as one of the values that are constitutive of the freedom of expression. Whenever they talk about the latter, they always make it very clear that privacy inhabits a completely different universe. I think they operate on a very flawed logic, which makes all their other efforts on this front look very insincere. Moreover, I think it is likely to cause Google much more damage in the long run: what’s the point of protecting the email accounts of Chinese human rights activists if you tell the rest of the world who those people are talking to?”



Google is on its way to building an empire of free flowing information, but the huge amount of data and immense trust it receives from people also places a great burden of responsibility on its shoulder. This responsibility will only grow heavier in the future when its new products will face similar choices, especially between its business gain and people’s personal privacy.

From TV to Internet: Commercials at Super Bowl 2010!

Hurray for the New Orleans Saints! Their first Super Bowl trophy in their franchise history! They really pulled out a fantastic show starting from the unexpected twist at the beginning of the second half, that was a real momentum builder, and from that point they just rocked! Cheers also for the four Trojan alumni on the two teams that played tonight! Fight on, Trojans!


Twitter went out of capacity during the Super Bowl Game!

Besides the football game itself, the excessive TV commercials have also become another star in the 4 hour long Super Bowl game! Before the Super Bowl started, Pepsi’s decision to withdraw from airing Super Bowl TV commercial and instead invest in social media has attracted so much attention. To some extent, it also helped show how expensive commercial advertisements for these Super Bowl are! After all, this is the most-watched TV event in America, and every second on TV is worths tens of thousands dollars! Advertisers, watch out for how you spend these seconds!

When I was watching the Super Bowl, I was also tweeting, and I noticed on Twitter that the Twitter trend in Los Angeles area showed “super bowl commercials” and “bowl commercials” as among the top ten tweeted key words, which reveals how talked about these TV commercials are! At one point during the game, Twitter was out of capacity! Too many people were tweeting! Here is the picture I captured to record this historical moment:

Fail Whale! Yay!

Three trends from Super Bowl TV Commercials:

Among all these million-dollar commercials, there are definitely many “awww” ones and many “what a waste of the money” ones, and also some pant-less ones out there. One trend I observed is that today so many brands are using TV commercials to direct their viewers to their website for more information, at the end of most brands’ TV commercials there is usually a link to their websites. Among brands advertising their website were Lexus, NFL, Doritos, Kmart, and companies ranging from every industry. It almost feels like these 30 second commercials are like movie trailers saying, “Wanna watch the whole show? Go to our websites!”

Another trend is that more and more websites and online services are using TV commercials to tap into the mass audience of traditional media, such as Google.com (first ever Super Bowl commercial!), Monster.com, GoDaddy.com, Homeaway.com, Carmax.com, Etrade.com. I especially felt Etrade.com (I have to say their commercial using talking babies are kinda freaky though) and Carmax.com were the two biggest online players with Super Bowl TV Commercials, and the number of their ads almost tied with the number of automobile commercials! Who says that New Media has to always be at war with Traditional Media like TV? They could totally help each other out in some circumstances, just like tonight!

Another interesting trend about the Super Bowl Commercials is that some brands do not just use their TV commercials to direct the viewers to their official webpage, but to their social media webpage like Facebook.com. Honda’s TV commercial served as an intro to their Facebook campaign: Everbody knows somebody who loves a Honda! Most of my friends and family drive Toyota, and I really do not know anyone around me who loves a Honda, but after I participated in their Facebook connection, I did find a friend on the Facebook page who does love Honda, ha, I guess their theory proves true with me! Good job, Honda!

Here is my list for Best and Worst Super Bowl Commercials:

The Best: My heart went to the well-crafted, little romantic love story told by the Google commercial, very succinct, very neat, very Google:


Thumbs up: Coca-cola, Honda, Monster.com, Teleflora, Intel, Motorola, KIA

Thumbs down:

Most of those Bud and Bud-light beer commercials were just really silly (in a bad way) and made people who drink Bud Light look really bad!

The worst of the worst:

Vizio Forge: it is sooooo dark, and sooooo scary!

Chrysler’s Dodge Charger: you don’t need to make life feel so dull and miserable just to contrast the joy men may get from driving your car, very depressing!

For people who missed these commercial, you can go to Hulu adzone to review the commercials and vote for your favorite ones! Hulu scores this one! yay!

What Do Chinese People Think of Google’s Potential Exit?

 

 

 

(Google’s office in Beijing, China)

Since Google made a public statement on Tuesday afternoon that it is considering pulling out of the Chinese market due to cyber attacks it suffered from a source originating in China, in the past two days, this incident has drawn huge attention from the global media and society. Many media scrutinized the impact of this incident from every social, economic and political perspective.

At the same time, I am most interested to see what response this incident will spur from the Chinese netizens since from the very moment the news broke out, like most people who are familiar with the Chinese media environment, I am not positive that the Chinese government would budge on the issue of censored searches.

Cries From the Chinese Geek Community

In the past two days, the front pages of Chinese media portals such as Sina.com.cn and Sohu.com.cn which are under the surveillance of the government, have remained silent about this incident. You might find one or two blog entries commenting on it in obscure corners of their news webpages. However, the incident has sparked a huge wave of responses from many Chinese social media outlets such as forums and bulletin boards, a most popular form of social media in China.

Though there are a certain amount of netizens disapproving of Google’s declaration of war against the Chinese government, thinking that following the local rules and regulations is just natural for companies doing business in foreign countries, but most of the netizens showed sympathy to Google and concerns for their future access to Google products. NetizenZhangXuebiao raised a question on a popular forum xici.net if people could scale the government’s firewall to visit Google in the future, which has resonated with many other Chinese netizens.

Cries were heard from the geeks communities about having to find replacements for Google Maps and Analytics products. Since the news broke out, many Chinese netizens have started to transfer their Google docs and Gmails. Google’s action may set an example for other foreign companies considering whether or not to make huge accommodations for the Chinese market, according to an article by Computer World, but it is not likely that it will attract many foreign technology companies as followers, as the risks and norms of conducting business in China have been well-known for decades.

Various Suspicions about Why Google Is Leaving

At the same time, there is much suspicion from those in China’s technology industry that it is not ideological reasons that are driving Google away, but rather the frustration of reaching business objectives in the past couple of years since Google entered China, just like the frustration it faced from entering other Asian countries like South Korea. According to a China Daily Article “Google [took] about 35 percent of China’s search engine market in the fourth quarter of last year, according to domestic research firm Analysys International” and “Google’s major competitor (the local search engine) Baidu had a 58-percent market share in the last quarter”. After about an eventful five year journey in the Chinese market (chart above was taken from China Daily website), Google.cn is still not seeing any hope of catching up with the its local competitor, Baidu, and the revenue stream it gets from China is still “a small fraction” of its overall revenue, something that it feels it can afford to lose at this moment. But what about Google’s future business potential in China? I wonder if the world’s largest internet user population is a market that Google can really afford to lose.

Many Chinese tech industry bloggers like Chen Jiao feel “Google pulling away its search and email products will hurt the long term business potential of Google by limiting exposure to the company’s entire suite of Google Apps and other future services in the Chinese market.” Not to mention the Android phones that Google is ambitious to push into the world market; if Google is on the blacklist of the Chinese government, its prospects in China will be much more unpredictable.

Who Will Be China’s Next “Google Analytics” ?

Okay, enough about Google. For local Chinese tech companies, Google’s leaving might be bad news to some of its local agents and partners, but it is definitely great news for its competitor like Baidu and many Chinese entities who aspire to be the “Chinese Google Analytics” and “Chinese Google Calendar”. There is a long tradition of Chinese tech companies taking over a foreign model and localizing it and gaining huge success from it, for example: youku.com from Youtube, renren.com from Facebook, and t.sina.com.cn from Twitter, and QQ from ICQ (even though later on QQ evolved past ICQ). Part of the reason for their success is their deep understanding of the local market and their flexibility; also the government’s banning of many original foreign sites has created a greenhouse for these “Chinese versions” to thrive and prosper. But the best way for a company to improve is to face and compete with a strong opponent, and I would feel really bad for these Chinese companies to lose such a valuable competitor even though they might be financially better off in the “intranet” created by the Chinese government. I hope the potential for innovation and the originality of Chinese companies would not be smothered by the exit of such a good competitor.

The Hottest New Online Search Phrase: “Illegal Sending Flowers”

Finally, here comes some fun stuff. According to some local sites like enet.com.cn, yesterday, knowing that Google was about to leave the country soon, some Chinese Google lovers have self-organized to go to the Beijing Google Office to present flowers to pay their tributes and farewell to this tech giant. As they were placing flowers in front of Google’s office building, they were banished by security guards working for the tech compound Google’s office was located in, and the guards accused the fans of “illegally sending flowers”. Within the next couple of hours, “illegal sending flowers” has been the hottest searched term in the Chinese internet.

A friend of mine joked that these “illegally sent flowers” must be from the staff of Google’s local competitor Baidu because in the past two days, Google has switched its Chinese site back and forth between the localized google.cn and the international google.com, indicating that the company does not seem to have really made up its mind to leave yet; but now since all the farewells and flowers have already been sent, it would be really hard for Google to not go now. (The note in the picture says: Google is The Man)