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July 23, 2011

Google Maps Removes Third-Party Reviews

Google Places pages have been updated to use the new Google+ interface, but the biggest change is that Google dropped the reviews from third-party sites like Yelp, Menupages or Booking.com, while only relying on the reviews from Google users. "Based on careful thought about the future direction of Place pages, and feedback we've heard over the past few months, review snippets from other web sources have now been removed from Place pages. Rating and review counts reflect only those that've been written by fellow Google users, and as part of our continued commitment to helping you find what you want on the web, we're continuing to provide links to other review sites so you can get a comprehensive view of locations across the globe," explains Google.

To encourage users to share their feedback and improve place pages, Google added a button for uploading photos and made the button for writing reviews more prominent. It's clear that Google Maps will become even more social and will integrate with Google+, so the reviews from your social circles will be more relevant and will help you find a nice restaurant or a fancy hotel.


While Google Hotpot added a lot of new reviews from Google users, there are still many local business that don't have reviews. What's more, the reviews from Google users are usually short, superficial and often they only include a rating.


Search Engine Roundtable speculates that Google removed third-party reviews because of Yelp's complaints. "We are unhappy with the way Google uses our users' review on its Places page. However, there is no solution to the problem… Google's position is that we can take ourselves out of its search index if we don't want them to use our reviews on Places," said Yelp's CEO. After an unsuccessful attempt to acquire Yelp, Google launched Places, Hotpot and made Google Maps results more prominent in the list of Web search results. Yelp felt that its reviews improved a competing service and asked Google to remove Yelp reviews from Google Places. Google decided that it's a good idea to blackmail Yelp and tie the Web search index with the Places reviews (Google News has a different policy and the same goes for Product Search). A such a terrible practice made Google look like a huge company that used its power to crush rising startups.

TechCrunch found that "Yelp made a presentation to a roomful of state attorneys general at the Conference of Western Attorneys General about regulatory issues in search. On that panel was Vince Sollitto, VP of Giverment Affairs for Yelp, along with Dana Wagner, a Google lawyer, and well-known antitrust attorney Gary Reback. Yelp's presentation was titled 'Google Places: A Threat To Innovation and Competition.' The basic argument was that Google strong-armed review websites into providing their content for free, and then gave their own Places product preferential treatment in search."

Instead of removing the reviews from Yelp, Google yanked all third-party reviews and made Google Places less useful. There are still links to other review sites and there's still a small excerpt from a review in the list of search results, but Google Maps is no longer a comprehensive source of reviews, while Bing Maps looks more attractive. Google Maps ratings no longer use data from third-party reviews, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that Google still uses these reviews to rank results.

14 comments:

  1. Users that think there isn't enough reviews for a place will add theirs on Google Places/Maps.
    So, this will increase reviews on Google properties...
    Users like simplicity ; they won't go to other websites if Google offer a simple interface to review place. At least on Android : when you are on the Maps app, you won't go the a non-Google website to view reviews : this 'd be too long on a mobile !

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  2. To me, this is plainly a mistake. I found it very useful to be able to access reviews from many sites starting from a single entry in Google Maps. Google may have been forced to do that, though.

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  3. My opinion is that "borrowing" other people's content for their places page was always a short term plan - it gave them some content while they built up their own reviews.

    Disclosure: I run a website who's content was scraped by Google for their Places pages.

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  4. I don't think it was a short term plan. There are many Google products that show snippets from reviews: Google Product Search, Google Books, Google Movie Search and they are very useful. It's "fair use" to include an excerpt from a page and mention the source, followed by a link.

    Snippets are also used in search results, Google News and not just by Google: all the other search engines use snippets.

    The main problem is that websites should be able to opt out from Google Maps, just like they can opt out from Google News, Google Image Search etc. If Yelp doesn't want to be a source of Google Maps reviews, then so be it. They should be entitled to choose because it's their content, but that doesn't mean that Google should also exclude the site from Google Web Search.

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  5. Alex: for a Google centric blog you do seem to echo too much of their critics and you doesn't give Google the benefit of the doubt that they very much deserve.

    There aren't any laws being violated, from the copyright standpoint they are protected as 'fair -use' (and no opt-out required), if it is any other standpoint then they are protected by the first amendment, as search results and their ranking are cosindered editorial content and court have ruled this way before.

    Obviously these critic keep 'atrotufung' and feeding their POVs to the other blogs you've mentioned. competitors complain, that what they do, it doesn't mean that their compaint have merit or legal standing.

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  6. @David:

    I don't write pro-Google or anti-Google articles. If Google makes mistakes or some of their decisions don't seem fair, I can't pretend that everything it's OK.

    Google Maps is an excellent service, but that doesn't mean that it deserves special treatment. Think about regular Web search results: snippets are covered by fair use and Google is allowed to index Web pages and rank them, but publishers have many options to opt out: using meta tags, a robots.txt file. They can ask Google or any other search engine to stop indexing a page, to stop caching its content or to stop showing snippets. It's a reasonable request, considering that it's their content.

    Yelp had every right to request Google to be removed from Google Maps, while still being included in the Web search index. Just like NYTimes can request Google to be removed from Google News, while still being included in the main index. They're separate services, with different terms.

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  7. Here's an excerpt from a SearchEngineLand article (2009):

    "Google Product Search has offered reviews culled from around the web on various products for some time. (...)

    Below the bar chart are small review quotes that Google’s algorithm has determined are particularly relevant. If you hover over a quote, you can then click to read the actual review.

    While the reviews themselves aren’t a new feature, I was a bit surprised at how much material Google uses from them (nearly 250 word for one). Google said that sites where it pulls reviews from are free to opt-out, that they don’t use the entire content, link to the originating source and overall haven’t found site owners raising issues, as they receive a lot of traffic from Google."

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  8. Google+... walled-garden to the stars (well, the verified ones anyway). What's next? only news blurbs from "fellow Google users"? (yeah, that's what I go to Google sites for /not)

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  9. Google is big enough to get its own comments and shouldn't need to "borrow"

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  10. I think Google Places should incorporate a GPS locator to easily incorporate new places which are not in Google Places yet. The interface for commenting new place or already ones should be simplified or likely more social! Emm ... I'm looking@you [Google+]!

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  11. What sucks about this is that as a user I found that extremely useful. As a user I have no interest in checking the 20+ different review sites out there. I also don't want to do a search and get 30 Yelp-like sites in my results.

    Win for the Yelps out there but a loss for users.

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  12. I'm with Alex on this one and definitely not David. Perhaps it's time to consider a "Boycott Google Until They Become More Helpful*, Friendly, and Sensitive Campaign!?"
    *See "Customer Service in the Early Days of Google" thread above.

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  13. I agree this is stupid. There are many sites who specialise in taking comments for particular topics, e.g. pubs. People go there to look for particular pubs in their area, and comments are usually more considered. I thought these scraped comments were often very useful and their source a bit of a quality guide too... This Google+ strategy is starting to annoy me already.

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  14. Boycott Google? It's part of the English language now. I'm afraid they would have to do something morally and legally wrong before that would work

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