Google needs to understand that Local is different than Search, that accuracy is more important than relevance, and they need to embrace the business listing side of Maps if for no other reason than these folks are the future growth of Adwords. If it takes charging a monthly fee to have the resources to service this side of the business then so be it.
I agree in principle that the companies like Google and my ex-employer should strive to provide a better service (and any company for that matter :), but I'm not so sure about charging local businesses for that service. The problem that Mike is pointing out with Google is just a tip of the iceberg. The problem with local listing sites and pain that a small business owners feel as a result is much deeper and bigger. Why do I say that?
An online listing of a small business is an important identity that the small business owners deeply care about. They not only want to make sure they can be discovered online, but they also want to make sure that the listing information is accurate. Sounds reasonable? Ok, then to achieve that where do they need to go today? Google? Microsoft? Yahoo? Ask? YellowPages? Yelp? Localeze? Merchant Circle? Center'd? Or InfoUSA? All of them?
You see the issue? The issue is that the local directories are fragmented and the small business owners are already spending tons of time online to make sure their information is accurately presented on each and every site (at Center'd we do get a number of emails every single day from SMBs asking either to be listed or to correct the listing) - that is a huge distraction from running their business offline. Now if all these sites start charging them for having a basic listing and keeping it accurate - it's going to be a huge money sink as well. I'm not against charging small business owners for promoting their business once it is listed and accurate - but having an accurate listing is almost a right that they have and all the websites that do list these owe it to their owne users aswell - after all you don't want to give a wrong phone number or a wrong address when someone searches on your site.
So what do we really need to help small business owners? We need a federated service that let's a small business owner to create and control their identity online - then this service pings all the directories (that are registered to get updates) about the updates. Then each directory must sync the data automatically from the central listing created/controlled by the small business owner. The federated service must be free and should some-what be like Wikipedia (or a part of Wikipedia itself?). Sounds too simple? Yes, hard to archive? May be, but not impossible. There are issues around how entities are represented in each directory - a standards-based entity-definition system and a standards based data format (microformats) is key to realize this.
When we are seeing a broader trend to move towards an open, portable and standards-based protocols and data formats, isn't about time to make that "local move" too? What do you think? If you are passionate about this problem and want to do *something* about it, ping me - may be we can do something together!
-- Chandu Thota, CTO/Co-Founder, Center'd