On video + story: Google goes hyperlocal

Google can seem like the Wizard of Oz, the omniscient Googod that has all the answers — with the quick action entry of a keyword or two.

And so, when Google comes to Vermont, or rather materializes in the form of the young, the geeky and the beautiful from Mountain View, Calif., it’s a hard phenomenon to ignore.

Members of the Google group that descended on Burlington this week were so anxious to make sure Vermonters found the Vermont Get Your Business Online event at Main Street Landing in Burlington that they were standing on a nearby street corner, calling out to perfect strangers who looked lost, clueless or potentially nerdy and herding them toward the entrance.

That dazed look didn’t go away when people walked in the door. After all, many of the Vermonters who came to the two-day event in Burlington were small business people who had no Web presence when they arrived.

About 40 eager Internet enthusiasts from Intuit and other local companies were available for hand-holding sessions that took the newbies from domain name to content management in a matter of minutes. In a theater, one group was getting a lesson in adwords, and in a third room, business people sat around white café tables with Google green, yellow, blue and red chairs, to learn about all things Google – Google places, Google search engine optimization, Google analytics, Google Apps and Google ad words (again).

By the time business owners left (several hours later) they had a virtual online identity. About 600 Vermonters signed up for the gratis package, which includes the website, a domain name and web hosting for one year.

Vermont is the second state in the country (Austin, Texas was first) to host the freebie event. (Google goes to Missouri and Kansas next.)

The takeaway line? About 63 percent of businesses in the United States, many of them small, mom-and-pop operations, aren’t online yet, even though 97 percent of Americans look for local products and services on the Internet. Without a Web presence, small businesses are “virtually invisible,” as the Google folks like to say.

One of the objectives of the webfest is to take the pain out of the process. Too many business owners believe websites are too expensive, too much hassle and too time-consuming. The Googlers at Vermont Get Your Business Online events hope to dispel those fears by making the process of launching a website easy, free and fast.

Enlightened self-interest, or mutually-assured benefit, is at the heart of Google’s ethos. The world’s biggest search engine company, is, after all, in the business of making money. The three-day Googlefest in Vermont, for example, includes plenty of emphasis on Google adwords. Is that a natural extension of finding an audience for the newly posted website? Or is it a way for Google to make a little cash? The two things appear to go hand in hand.

Google was in town to do what Google does best – revel in the glory of online success (Google “contributed” $64 billion to the nation’s economy last year) and share its virtual largesse with other businesses.

Bill Maris,  managing partner of Google Ventures, was chief cheerleader at the kickoff on Thursday. Maris, a Middlebury College grad, is no stranger to the startup. In 1997, he founded Burlee.com, a Web hosting company in Burlington. In a short speech, he talked about his early days in the Web world, at a time when websites were newfangled and foreign. In short order, though, the 20-something sold the idea to big Vermont companies – Ben and Jerry’s Homemade and Vermont Country Store.

Google understands entrepreneurs, Maris said, and it wants to work with local partners in the industry to help nurture small companies that are now cut off from the global Web marketplace.

“We need to get more businesses online, and the logic for it ends there,” Maris said. “It’s good for business, Google and the country.”

The Burlington event continues today 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Main Street Landing in Burlington; the Rutland event takes place from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 13. For more information, go to http://www.vermontgetonline.com/

Editor’s note: We incorrectly stated that Google contributed $64 million to the U.S. economy. The company did $64 billion worth of business last year.

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Anne Galloway

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  • Dan Allen

    Did Mr. Maris discuss the transition his Burlee customers suffered, when he sold Burlee to a St. Louis company? I lost clients in that transition, because I had hosted them at Burlee, then Burlee fell offine. The company that bought them was a nightmare, my client websites were offline for days, while Mr. Maris cashed his gigantic check.

    So now, Mr. Maris leads us to Google, practically saying “what is good for Google is good for America.”

    This reminds me of the Duncan Yo Yo champion who visited my town in 1970 to show what is possible with a yo yo.

  • Once upon a time long, long ago in a land long forgotten there was this new fangled thing called the “internet”. (I am, of course referring to those olden days of the 1990s.) This internet thingie begat some companies that went by such names as America Online and CompuServe and others.

    But then folks realized one couldn’t access desirable parts of one network from another, and the internetizens deemed this ‘bad’ and made it so … and AOL and CompuSever were forced to abandon the Balkanized version of the internet so internetizens could access the information of their choice on their time.

    And thus we begat the internet as we know it today – a disorderly mix of the commercial and political and personal and educational and more.

    And this heaving to and fro of the new wild frontiers of internetworking begat some giants who go by the name of Google and Facebook and others.

    And these new giants deemed the wild and open internet we all came to love as ‘bad’ and began making it so.

    The shorter version? We started with an internet that was split up among competing super providers, moved to an open internet that provided equal accessiblity, and now we’re moving back to the earlier version that nobody liked.

    The bells and whistles have changed and grown and gotten much more sophisticated – but the desire to control is still there.

    I would argue making too much use of Google or Facebook or any others works against our best interests.

  • Dan Allen

    Former Attorney General of Rhode Island, Pat Lynch, is in Montpelier right now to ”fight Google.” I told him I blog and wanted to interview him, because he looked like he was dressed for serious business. His response was to explain he has been retained by Expedia and fairsearch.org, which promotes, ”healthy Internet future, where greater consumer choice and economic growth are driven by competition, transparency and innovation in online” He appears to be here to get attention and sway the discussion, toward a view of internet neutrality maybe, he did not use that term.