Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Google Places helps build your online presence!

Google Places has not really impressed me! It could have been much better! Perhaps, I go back a long time in web development, hence, this impression.

I was part of a significantly huge exercise at Global Sources, Hong Kong, back in the late 1990s in developing the search engine -- specifically, developing a four-layer deep search, as well as the product specifications search for the massive site I independently managed -- Global Sources Telecom Products -- along with my colleague, Len Sangalang. Of course, all of this was made possible with the guidance of Raj, and Rita's assistance with the actual web development, and the backing of Spenser Au and Daniel Tam. We were trying to achieve all of this before GSOL was listed on the NASDAQ on 14 April 2000. Hence, the tremendous pressure and rush to complete all of our projects!

In those days, thanks to the backing of Raj Gopinath and Rob Nelson -- my bosses, I had actually rolled out four big sites under Telecom Products -- incorporating Wireless, Broadband, Telephones & Systems, and Telecom Accessories & Parts -- all of this inside one month -- post the NASDAQ listing of GSOL! Hope, my friend, Romy Udanga (in Auckland, New Zealand) is reading this post, as he also made this happen, by passing my proposal!

We had a lot of SMEs in place as well, and had to really do a lot of hard work. Remember, in those days, there was no Google, Yahoo was coming up, and well, there were no good models of online search and web presence. We did it all by ourselves! Heady days, those! Okay, let me get back to Google Places!!

Having said all that, Google Places is a cool Web tool for startups and those looking to make a very quick online presence, especially on Google! It is especially useful for those who do not want to invest in a website, but can have an online presence about their business up and running in a matter of less than five minutes!

Google Places, previously known as Local Business Center, helps a company verify and supplement business information, including hours of operation, photos, videos, coupons and product information, etc., thereby providing a way to communicate with customers. It will give businesses new insights that enable should them to make smart decisions.

Giving a demo of Google Places, Manik Gupta, product manager, Google India Pvt Ltd, highlighted the really easy procedure that anyone can use to set up the online presence. The best thing is: all of this comes free!

According to him, India is a nation of small entrepreneurs and it is estimated that there are more than 30 million small businesses in India. However, only a fraction of these are online.

He added: "We have also observed that one out of five searches on Google is related to a user's location, and very often people are looking for local businesses. As small businesses in India are realizing the advantages of having an online presence, Google Places is the ideal solution since it’s free and easy. The growth of Google Places in India has been phenomenal and we have seen over 40 percent growth in businesses registering on Google Places over the past six months."

The online presence is a customer verified listing, based on the information provided by the customer. Thereafter, Google crawls through all of the relevant information associated with the content provided by a company/entity, and summarizes it for the user. This concept is called a 'place page.'

Once you've signed up for your page, an SMS is sent to your mobile phone containing a PIN, which the user is required to add in the relevant place. Gupta added: "We do not believe in regulating. Users would need to verify themselves."

There's no provision as yet, to directly link to your Twitter or Facebook accounts, although, you could use your social media web address -- as a web address, if required, while filling up the information table.

Google is not looking at monetizing Google Places in India at the moment. At some point, it may introduce certain relevant products.

I wonder whether Google could work with the leading B2B and/or B2C websites of the world and extend Google Places. A debate regarding who controls the content may arise, but then, it is expected that such issues can be sorted out. Best of luck!