Posts tagged ‘Google Places’

VRBO / HomeAway Have Abandoned Faith With Travelers By Corrupting Their Review System

One of the best innovations on the web has been customer review scores.  I use the reviews of products at, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Opentable all the time to aid in my buying.  Sure they can be frustrating -- some reviewers will petulantly give 1 star reviews for absurd issues or failings.  And I know that as much as reviews on Tripadvisor, Google Places, and Facebook can drive me crazy, they help me improve my business.

But these systems only work when they are run with integrity. I once had to get a Tripadvisor review deleted because it was fraudulent (made up claims from a disgruntled employee rather than a customer).  It was a long, uphill battle to get that one review deleted, as it should be.

Unfortunately, VRBO and HomeAway (I think they are the same company now) have abandoned this integrity.  For those that do not know, these sites feature rental of vacation homes and apartments.  We love this travel option - often we can get a nice 2 bedroom condo with kitchen and living room for the same price as a hotel room.  On this site there are often hundreds or thousands of options for rentals, and so customer reviews can be an important source of information in choosing.  Does it really look like its pictures?  Was everything there that was promised?  Are there any location or noise issues?  Essentially, reviews make sure the landlord cannot try to hide issues from travelers.

It used to be you could just log in and review the location, just like one does with a product on Amazon.  I think there was some testing to make sure you had actually rented it, but this is easy and Amazon has the same thing where it tags reviews with something like "confirmed buyer" or whatever.  But VRBO has now gone to a system where the landlord can essentially opt out of the review process.  If they don't send you a review link, you can't review.  In other words, you can't review without the owners permission.  And, as you may guess, owners with properties that have flaws that would readily be pointed out by reviewers do not allow one to review.

To compound the problem, VRBO hides all this.  For example, we rented this flawed beach home in San Diego.  It was wonderful in every way except for one -- the properties below and around it seem to be preferred destinations for loud groups of frat boys partying.  We pretty much got no sleep.   I wanted to warn future customers of this potential issue, but that is impossible because the landlord will not send me a VRBO review link, and that is the only way I can review it.  VRBO hides this because the listing says "This property doesn't have any reviews yet!"  That sounds far more innocent than the more accurate statement, which would be "This property does not choose to participate in the review process."

I Hate to Enjoy This, But...

Apparently Google is under attack from many directions for anti-trust violations, the main complaint seeming to be that Google tilts its search results to favor its own divisions   (e.g. Google Places at the top of travel searches).    The Reason article as well as the Politico piece illustrate just how much competitors with political pull, rather than consumers, are the true beneficiaries of anti-trust policy.

I really have nothing but disdain for this use of government power, but I can't help but laugh at the plight of Google, whose CEO had a large role in suing Microsoft for browser anti-trust years ago for the horrible crime of giving away a free browser with their OS.  In fact, ironically, the core of this suit was about Microsoft going too far in integrating the OS with browser.  In many ways, Microsoft was probably prescient (for once, they tend to be a follower) in looking towards an OS built around browser.  In fact, by preventing Microsoft from such integration, the suit cleared the way for an integrated browser based OS to be introduced by.... Google with Chrome OS.  And there sure is a lot of browser / OS integration in my Google android-based phone.  I also don't remember my Android phone offering me a range of browser and search choices, requirements their CEO had the government impose on Microsoft.

More recently, Google has led the charge in Washington to regulate broadband suppliers in the name of "net neutrality."  This classic bit of tilting the playing field in the name of creating a level playing field was theoretically aimed at stopping broadband companies from tilting their bandwidth for or against different web sites.  Thus critics of Google who are concerned with the tilting of their search results for or against companies are demanding "search neutrality."  This is a horrible bit of government interventionism, but the irony is delicious.

Google's efforts in net neutrality really are a head scratcher for me.  What did they really get from that, and was it really worth opening the Pandora's box of government Internet regulation?  And didn't anyone there not see the obvious application of the same logic to themselves?  If you establish the principle that Cox Cable has to be a common carrier, it seems like a small step to say that Google Search must be as well.  And maybe next must be a common carrier of retail goods.    This is bad, bad stuff and Google and its CEO has brought it all on themselves.