Cleaning up a crowdsourced mess

On the Internet, everyone’s an expert. And because of that we have been cleaning up after these “experts” the last few weeks.

It started when all of a sudden the Executive and Professional Development Department (Execed) started getting an increase in phone calls for all kinds of things. After asking a few callers they realized everyone had found their information on Google.

Sure enough, after doing our own search, we found that Google replaced our official location with the Execed location (image below). As we investigated further, it seemed like our old location was no where to be found. This new location, which actually may have been old, was labeled “Wayne State University” and had the URL of We were stumped how this could happen.

Luckily the phone number and address were still pointing to a location on campus and we could field the calls and any mail to the correct location. It would have been a nightmare if it was directing people to a non-existent location.

Crowdsourced information

Google has a ton of information and they index a lot of it from an official source but over time that information changes, they rely on the community to alert and suggest changes. If you see something that is incorrect you can simply click the “Edit” button next to the information, fill out the correct information and it goes off for approval.

In my experience it takes about two weeks for some mystery person at Google to approve your change. We didn’t have two weeks to wait and were getting hundreds of calls per day to our main number. We also quickly realized that when you call “information” on your cell phone they often use Google to get the phone number and location of what you’re looking for.

Google does allow you to “claim” a location so you can make edits to it at any time. The process is a little interesting though.

Claiming a location

At some point in time in the last few weeks Google has had each of these locations marked as our primary location:

Google used to offer a “phone” verification which is pretty quick but unfortunately that option wasn’t available these last few weeks. We were forced to use the snail mail a PIN number to the location. This can take some time… we are still waiting for the PIN’s for a few locations.

Randomly assigned locations

Each time we found incorrect information we put in a request to remove or edit it. Google would get to it and sometimes the location would just simply disappear. Then for whatever reason Google would pick up another random location as our primary, not sure why or how but the most concerning was the most recent one on Erie Street.

It concerned us the most because it isn’t even a real location. The address “323 Erie Street” was a location we had in Port Huron, 60 miles away from Detroit. Google (or some Internet “expert”) somehow mashed the address up with “Detroit, MI. 48201”. Apparently there is an “Erie Street” in Detroit but the address number doesn’t match a location (as you can see from the screenshot at the top of this post).

Getting better

Luckily the mysterious Google employee was able to approve our community change to correct the address and phone number within a few days. At least our main mailing address and phone number are there, but the map still wasn’t updated. Clicking on it still brought the user about 15 miles from our actual campus.


Acting as a “local expert” again we were able to move the pin on the map to match the physical address that Google had for the location. I was amazed that the pin wasn’t automatic to the address. But I understand that sometimes the address and pin locations need to be different.

Google must have had our ticket on the top of their list because the pin update only took the mysterious employee 24 hours to approve.

What about our old official location?

Nobody knows. Looks like it is gone forever. Word of advice: Claim your institution’s Google location now before a local expert does for you.

5 Replies to “Cleaning up a crowdsourced mess”

  1. I had to let Google maps know 3 different times before they finally quit labelling 2nd Ave north
    of campus as a two way street. The third time I submitted the correction I told them that the people who are coming at me going the wrong way on the one way street are probably following Google’s directions and Google may find themselves in legal trouble if that causes a wreck.

    Now that 2nd is again two way (!) I just checked Google maps, and they haven’t yet caught up. Interestingly, I typed in the address 656 W. Kirby to get a Google map that would show 2nd, and discovered that Google thinks that 656 W. Kirby is the address of Palmer Printing.

    It is starting to seem that crowd sourcing of maps will suffer the same problems that cause men to prefer not to ask directions: the random person you ask probably doesn’t know and will give you a wrong answer.

  2. I was having my Samsung TV serviced by a technician and they were heading out to my address. I get a call that they are at my door and I go down to get them and no one is there.

    Weird, so I call them back and ask them where they were, turns out they were at the East Location of my address and not the West location.

    Turns out that Google marked both the West and East location of the address as the same location. I made the marker change and then exactly 2 months later I received an e-mail saying that they corrected it.

    This was back in March – May 2010.

  3. Is this just a problem with Google? What about Bing, Bing Maps, and other internet search tools?

    1. Nick,

      Wow. Glad to read about this. Alternatively freaking out because now Bing–as you noted–has the Press as the main WSU location AND you’ll note my direct telephone number as the main number. I worked with Jill Zeller last year to try and fix this with Google (again, Press and my number listed as main WSU contact). Google got taken care of but now Verizon 411 gives out my direct number as the main WSU number… Around this time of year the calls I’m fielding are insane.

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