Nine and Nein

Today we begin a fresh new fiscal year after celebrating our ninth anniversary of incorporation on July 27th, 2021. Our ninth year was largely constrained by COVID-nineteen. Beyond that, the term “nein”, a homonym of nine, which in German means “no”, summarises well three notable events of this past year.

In October, we said “nein” to Facebook. To quote Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher (yes, there is a theme here):

“Treat people as an end, and never as a means to an end.”

In a previous blog post, Data is Human, we cite that quote, and argue that “if companies continue to treat user data as a means to an end, the consequence may well be their users finding a means, however extreme, to end the relationship.” Indeed, we ended the relationship, writing in our parting post:

Farewell Facebook. As of October 2020, reelyActive will no longer be active on this platform because our values do not align with Facebook’s behaviour, most notably Facebook’s view of users as a means to an end.

Not long thereafter, we said “nein” to Instagram. This decision was based on principle due to Instagram’s association with Facebook, and made easier by the fact that Mrs. Barnowl, our stuffy mascot star of our Instagram account, had few opportunities to travel and share with her followers due to the pandemic. Our parting bio reads:

We bid farewell to Instagram in 2020 as the values of our respective organisations have diverged. Thanks nonetheless for owl the fun times!

Finally, and most begrudgingly, we said “nein” to YouTube following their June 1st change to their Terms of Service. In short, YouTube now reserves the right to run ads on all videos, treating all its users, both viewers and creators alike, as a means to an end.

For a business like ours, YouTube is was purely about discoverability, not monetisation. We expected to find an option to pay YouTube to keep our videos ad-free, but alas, this was not part of their plan. So we’ve migrated to Cloudflare Stream as our video hosting platform which is working out great so far, aside from the obvious setback to discoverability.

There you have it: nine was very much a year of “nein”.

In hindsight, are we surprised?   Nein.   We have indeed been anticipating the social dilemma.

Do we nonetheless remain optimistic that we’ll have novel, purposeful alternatives to which to say yes in the future?   Yeah! (Ja?)

Local Search in 2019

What’s in store (pun intended) for 2019? The Local Search Association kicks off each year with a compilation of its members’ predictions.

This is our third consecutive year submitting predictions. While our 2017 prediction proved way too optimistic, our 2018 prediction, and the two we submitted this year, resonate well among those of our peers.

Google My Business

GMB, as insiders call it, is easily the central theme of this year’s predictions. As Google describes it, your Business Profile appears right when people are searching for your business or businesses like yours on Google Search and Maps. Said differently, GMB democratises the digitisation of the physical storefront. Because Google observes web standards such as Schema.org, GMB is in line with A structured, data-driven future predicted by MONO‘s Louise Lachmann (p. 47) and Svenn Anderson (p. 56). We couldn’t be more pleased about this development as it finally addresses (pun again intended), at scale, the question we posed in our 2018 prediction:

Might brick-and-mortar benefit by borrowing now familiar concepts from their online counterparts?

In fact, Marc Poirier of Acquisio, a business local to us in the Montréal area, specifies exactly how Google breaks down [the] barrier to entry for local advertisers (p. 34) to make our previous prediction a reality.

Alternatives to the mobile-social status quo

One of our two predictions this year was The emergence of refreshing alternatives to the mobile-social status quo, the paradigm which has largely characterised the current decade. Perhaps the best indication that change is afoot is the dearth of predictions about social networks! The Social & Reviews section is a mere four pages long, with one prediction being our own, and another, by Surefire Local‘s Shashi Bellamkonda, being that Google will finally get social right (p. 26).

Indeed if there’s one prediction that has us excited it is the growth of No click search results predicted by Infront Webworks‘ Michael Hodgson (p. 15). Thanks to the aforementioned structured data in the form of Schema.org, anyone — not just Google — can present information in a novel way to users through the web browser. In fact, one of our current top initiatives at reelyActive is in-page search of physical objects within physical spaces, leveraging these same standards.

Privacy, data ownership and consumer inclusion

The other of our two predictions is that Consumer inclusion will become the norm rather than the exception. As many experts cite in their predictions, the subject of ownership of personal data has come to the forefront, as was clearly the case at the LSA’s Place Conference a few months previous. Jeff White of Gravy Analytics predicts that The data privacy storm is coming (p. 66) while Skyhook‘s Kipp Jones suggests that “the rumors of the death of privacy have been greatly exaggerated” (p. 54). While there’s consensus among the experts that change is coming, the nature and impact of that change is, however, very much up for debate.

Of course concerns over data ownership apply equally to SMBs and brands themselves, as Location3‘s Josh Allen highlights in his prediction of Data ownership & brand control (p. 68), concluding:

Own your website. Own your accounts. Own your data.

This mantra is as befitting to the individual user as to the brands and businesses with which they interact. We’d therefore be pleased to see the conversations about data ownership around the board room table translate into more meaningful conversations around the kitchen table.

Summing it all up

In conclusion, we’re partial to Gyi TsakalakisPlus ça change, plus c’est la même chose prediction (p. 19), not just because it is titled in French, but because it reminds us all that technology is only complementary to what has made, and continues to make, the local space great:

While 2019 is sure to bring improvements in the way that machines understand the real world, success in the local space will continue to be built on remarkable service, reputation, and relationships.

Here’s to a successful 2019 for local search, to a broadly-accessible standards-based web, and to serious industry and individual introspection about privacy!