This Place is Permanently Closed / by Erin Wade

I've come across an interesting and somewhat troubling bug in google maps. For some reason, there are locations coming up as being "permanently closed", even when this is not the case.

How do I know this? My Lovely Wife and I were vacationing in Manitou Springs, Co, after the ABAI Conference this year. Manitou Springs is a lovely little tourist town that sits on the doorstep of the Garden of the Gods and the Manitou Cliff Dwellings - just down the road from Pike's Peak. We were looking for a place to have dinner on our first night in town, so MLW fired up her Yelp app and discovered a place called PJ's Bistro that served variations on polish food - pierogies, in particular, were what sparked her interest (she's half-Ukranian on her mother's side - you don't want to get in the way of a Ukranian on her way to a pierogie).

That decided, I looked it up on the Maps app on my iPhone. It was there, but the flag over the pin listed it as "permanently closed". Afraid all hopes of potato pocket heaven were lost, MLW called to ask if PJ's was open. She received a mildly confused "yes" from the woman on the other end of the line. (Incidentally, the food was delightful, and the restaurant offers a bit of balcony seating that offers views of the main drive in Manitou Springs, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop).

Ordinarily I might have written it off as a fluke, but the following day we decided to rent a car to cover the distance to the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center. We had the rental company pick us up. I didn't know the actual street address of our motel, so I just gave the name - The Dillon Motel - to the young man on the phone. Later he told me that they were confused because when they looked the Dillon up on Google Maps it was listed as - wait for it - "permanently closed".

I was aware that the Maps app that comes on the iPhone uses Google Maps as its source material, so it wasn't surprising to find the same indication when I looked it up on my iPad. The situation brings up a couple of troubling questions. The first is whether our entire trip has been some sort of feverish delusional experience brought on by too many days of behavior analysis seminars, or whether we've been sucked into some sort of alternate reality (staying at the the Dillon Motel does make me feel like I'm in a Quentin Tarantino movie - and I can't find either my gun or the drug money, making me very, very nervous as to who might come through the door).

The second, perhaps more salient question is: how many businesses are inaccurately listed as being "permanently closed" on Google Maps? It appears that this is one of Google's crowd sourcing features, so just about anyone can list a business as "Permanently Closed" - including competitors and prior customers with an axe to grind. Given that Google maps - either directly or through the plethora of other applications that rely upon it - is a primary source of information for a growing number of people looking for a hotel, a restaurant, an all-night bikini waxing spa, this could likely be a large source of lost business and revenue for such places. This would be particularly true for those businesses run by less tech-savvy folks, who are likely to be completely unaware of such a listing - after all, the legions of people not stopping into a store can't inform the owners of the problem.

Furthermore, even when a business owner is aware of an innacurate listing, who does she contact? There are no "report a problem" links that I could see on the iOS Maps app, nor on the mobile version of the Google Maps site. There is one on the desktop version, but I could not get it to allow me to enter information from my iPad. It might - probably would - from a desktop computer. But even if that's so, once the issue is reported it's up to Google to decide whether or not to correct the issue. And even then, this would be one correction at a time.

And that's somewhat beside the point. The reality is that these sites and applications are designed to be used by people who are out and about. The mobile versions - apps and mobile websites - are what people are going to be seeing and using more and more. Business people already contend with competition and the other stresses of the open market. They can be reviewed by anyone and his uncle for any reason. The business owner should not also have to worry about whether he or she is unknowingly losing business because Google has identified a business as "permanently closed".

Update: We had let the owner of the Dillon Motel know about his status on Google Maps, and he was able to have it corrected. He also indicated that he would get in touch with the owner of PJ's Bistro and make them aware. So - a happy ending for them, but how pervasive this is remains an open question.