Google Places: Reputation Management

Most small businesses live in dread of the day when a competitor drops a nasty review on their Places page. Imagine waking up one day and finding 58 of them. That’s what happened to the Place Page for Moishe’s Moving Systems in NYC. For several days in early July they were finding one 1 star review after another showing up on their Places page. Imagine their sense of futility as they hit the “flag as inappropriate” link over and over again.

A quick call to their competitors across town indicated the same was happening to them. Not just the same pattern but the very same reviews, same bad English, same mispellings, often not even getting the company name correct.

A search in Maps on the phrase “It really hurt me and I highly recommend that NOBODY DO BUSSINESS WITH THIS COMPANY>>>>>> and by the way all the locations they advertise with are 100% fake” surfaced the very same reviews on over 100 moving companies country wide from Miami to LA.

It seems that in this scam, hundreds of moving companies across the U.S. not only ALL received the exact same bad reviews but many then soon received unsolicited proposals to “remove malicious, old, slanderous, unfounded, and internet defamation ratings”.


The internet has spawned a whole new generation of reputation management firms that help make sure that the front page of Google does not have bad things prominently displayed about your company. With the growing importance of reviews and the impact that they have had on businesses a number of companies jumped into the “positive review” only game to be sure that your Places page showed only glowingly satisifed reviews.

But apparently, the review reputation management business has taken on a new, more sinister twist of late. It appears that unscrupulous “reputation management” firms are now not only offering to place postive reviews on your Places page and help take down negative reviews, they are actually creating the negative reviews in the first place. Now that’s a business model! Have you seen this practice in other industries?

Google has indicated that they are in the process of removing the reviews. That being said it does highlight the structural problems caused by a still immature review spam algo AND the frustrating process for an SMB to request that a review be removed via the “flag as inappropriate” link. This problem is much like the issues that they confront with bugs in the Places Dashboard process.

It is likely that this obnoxious review spam will be taken down, it is also likely that the spam review filter algo will improve over time.

The current automated flagging system however is inadequate to handle the situation until such time as the algo improves. The flag, like many Google complaint processes, is likely just feedback to their machine learning system. It rarely if ever leads to an immediate takedown. Google consistently prioritizes their needs and the assumed needs of reviewers in this process. It certainly provides NO feedback to the affected merchant as to what if anything Google will do about the problem review.

As demonstrated once again by the review snafu last week, when numerous revews were lost, reviews are an very much a flash point for most business users of Places. The lack of quick public response on Google’s part demonstrated either an incredible lack of staff, an incredible lack of sensitivity or perhaps just an on-going tin ear to the needs of their small business clients vis a vis reviews.

Until such time as the algo is significantly improved and problems like extortion spam can be greatly minimized in an automated fashion Google needs to create a process that comes down in favor of the SMB reporting the problem. Perhaps one that hides the egregious reviews pending a human review process that actually includes timely communication. Once the algo has been refined they could then think about a cut back to the human intervention.

But with Google’s growing portfolio of Local Commerce products they will find a very chilly reception indeed on Main Street until they do a better job of handling reviews.

Fabrication with SketchUp: An Example

With all the hullabaloo about Personal Fabrication lately, scads of committed SketchUp modelers are getting very excited about turning their digital models into honest-to-goodness, physical things. The idea is thrilling, but the process of actually going “from idea to object” can be intimidating. The PF train is just leaving the station, but with a little bit of help, anyone who knows their way around SketchUp can climb aboard. I promise.

Getting Started

The first thing to realize is that there are basically two types of personal fabrication (at least when it comes to SketchUp.) The technologies are completely different and each is appropriate for specific kinds of objects. Which one you choose depends entirely on what you’re trying to make.

2D CNC Fabrication

2D CNC Fabrication is all about cutting parts out of flat sheets of material. These flat pieces are then manually assembled into a 3D object by means of slots, fasteners or glue. The challenge lies in designing the “kit of parts” such that everything fits together. You’re actually making two models: one to design the final assembly (Image 1) and one that lays out all the pieces for cutting (Image 2).

Image 1: Build the first model to design the final assembly of parts and pieces. This is John Bacus’ design for the SKPRbot that we’re giving away at Maker Faire this weekend.


Image 2: Your second model lays out the pieces on a flat cut sheet. Since cost is directly related to the amount of material you use, you’ll save money by designing efficiently. The cut sheets on the right are just Top views of the model on the left (with Perspective turned off.)


Image 3: A rendering of a completed SKPRbot. This one’s been cut out of several different-colored sheets of translucent acrylic.


The cost of CNC-made stuff is generally a function of two things: material type and material quantity. Because of this, it behooves you to design your “cut sheets” as efficiently as possible. Squeeze parts together to save money. The materials available to you are many; wood, metal, cardboard and plastic are all options.

One more thing about CNC: There are lots of ways to cut things out. Some machines use lasers, some use water and some use metal bits like the ones you find on a router. Knowing which cutting technology you’ll be using is important because lasers, water and metal bits have different kerfs, or cutting widths (Image 4, below). Obviously, that’s something to keep in mind as you’re designing your cut sheets.

Image 4: Kerf is the width of the cut left by whatever tool is doing the cutting. Lasers have negligible kerfs; CNC routers have more significant ones.


If you’re planning to buy your own CNC hardware, I’d recommend having a look at ShopBot. Their machines are of the “metal router bits” variety; their focus is predominantly on woodworking.

If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to work with a service provider who can cut out your project and ship you the parts, you’d do well to peruse Ponoko’s website. It’s well-designed, beginner-friendly and affordable. To send a 2D cut sheet file to Ponoko, you’ll need to export an EPS file using Google SketchUp Pro. Beyond that, their 2D Design Tips page is super-helpful.

Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (or 3D printing, as less fancy people call it) involves squirting material onto a platform. Starting at the bottom and working up, layers are “printed” on top of each other until a 3D object is formed. Different 3D printing machines use plastic, resin, powder (which is hardened into a solid) and even metal. Printed objects can be monochrome or multi-colored.

Image 5: No matter how you’re 3D printing, the first step is to make a “solid” model. Skip down a few paragraphs to learn more about what this means.


Image 6: 3D printers build up layers of material in order to create 3D objects. Temporarily floating elements sometimes need sprues or other forms of support, but these aren’t show in the pictures above.


Image 7: A rendering of a solid-printed SKPRbot. This one is monochromatic because it’s made from a single material, but 3D prints can also be multicolored if you use the right machine.


In general, the cost of additive manufacturing is based on the physical size of the thing you’re trying to print. Most machines top out at objects that are about the size of a lampshade. Choosing fancy materials (like stainless steel) can be pricey, but palm-sized objects printed in resin or plastic are surprisingly economical.

Some machines can even produce interconnected, moving parts by printing a second type of material where voids occur. After the whole thing is made, the second material (it’s often wax) is melted away, leaving just the main components. This is a great way to prototype close-fitting connections like ball-and-socket joints and threaded parts.

The biggest gotcha when it comes to modeling 3D printables with SketchUp has to do with solidity. Every printed object is made out of solid material, whereas every SketchUp model is completely hollow. What’s a devoted SketchUpper to do?

The answer is to create a model which can be considered solid. A solid model (as far as SketchUp’s concerned) is completely enclosed; if you filled it with water and shook it, none would leak out. Happily, one of the features we added to SketchUp 8 is a solidity-checker. The Entity Info dialog box tells you if a group or component is solid. (See Image 5, above.) You can read more about this (and about the Solid Tools in SketchUp Pro 8) in this post from last year.

Buying your own professional-quality 3D printer will set you back about as much as buying a nice car. If that’s a problem for you (it is for me) there are hobbyist machines that you can buy and assemble yourself. They’re all offshoots of the RepRap project, but the best-known and most commercial units are sold by MakerBot Industries. For less than $1500, you can have a personal fabrication facility in your dining room. A huge community of enthusiasts are exploring SketchUp (and other software) workflows online. These are exciting times, to be sure.

Image 8: The Thing-O-Matic from MakerBot industries costs all of $1299. Blue bunny not included.


For the less DIY-inclined among us, there are plenty of great 3D printing service providers who can handle the messy business of actual output. All you do is upload a 3D model and wait for your object to arrive in the mail. Ponoko (mentioned above in the CNC category) is an option; their SketchUp workflow is simple and straightforward.

Another great service provider is i.materialise. With equipment capable of 3D printing human-sized objects and years of experience rapid prototyping things like artificial heart valves, this company is very, very capable. Even better, their SketchUp plugin makes 3D printing as painless as possible.