Like many other twenty-somethings, I grew up understanding that what was on the web was not always right. Still, there are a few spaces on the web where users are conditioned to trust what they read—and Google has a strong track record of getting things pretty much almost mostly right. But it turns out that Google Places has a growing problem—restaurants and shops that are still running strong are sometimes reported by Google as "permanently closed."
If, like many other mobile users, you use Google Places, the 21st century Yellow Pages, to get around your neighborhood, you might be missing out on the best grub or shopping your 'hood has to offer.
It turns out that what could be considered the most important part of Google Places—telling users what is open for business around them—is crowd sourced, making small business listings about as reliable as Esperanza Spalding's Wikipedia page.
The New York Times reports that some of the most popular dive spots in town are becoming the victim of erroneous reporting:
"On Google Places, a typical listing has the address of a business, a description provided by the owner and links to photos, reviews and Google Maps. It also has a section titled "Report a problem" and one of the problems to report is "this place is permanently closed." If enough users click it, the business is labeled "reportedly closed" and later, pending a review by Google, "permanently closed." Google was tight-lipped about its review methods and would not discuss them."
Such is the rub with crowd sourcing; mining users for information means everything stays incredibly current, but it has the unfortunate downfall of being vulnerable to abuse.
The biggest bummer, of course, is that the best places are more likely to be mis-labeled as "permanently closed." After all, the only people who care enough to repeatedly report a popular restaurant as closed are its less successful competitors.
So how can you avoid missing out? It's easy—just make a phone call.
Google Places is still a great destination to get the vitals about a business, like its phone number and hours of operation. So before you pass up a great little shop that looks "permanently closed," give them a call and confirm whether they're still in business.
If they're up and running, make sure to let the owner know about Google Places' gaffe, then head to the site yourself and click on the "Not True?" link on that business' page.
(Images: Google Places)