Google Makes Changes To Local Listings On Android, iOS

Google has made some adjustments to local search results on Android and iOS devices. Users can now see an experience that more closely resembles that of the desktop experience.

“I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a picky eater,” writes Google software engineer Dan Zivkovic on the company’s Inside Search blog. “If I’m choosing a restaurant, I want to know that it has good reviews, that they’ll have food items I like, that it’s not too expensive, and all that. With the new changes to the local listings in search on mobile devices, now I’ll be able to see more details about places quickly and make decisions more easily — whether about restaurants or any other type of place.”

“For example, if I search for [restaurants dallas] on my mobile phone now, I’m presented with a list of local results as usual,” says Zivkovic. “Now, if I click on the name of the place, I instantly see a summary of the business, with reviews, photos, and more details, similar to the local information you see when searching on your computer. Okay, this place looks fine, but what about the other results from the list? With a simple swipe of the page left or right, I can see the local result before or after this one, to quickly compare the different options and make a decision on where to eat.”

Google has recently made some adjustments to how it handles local searches in general. Earlier this month, Google put out a list of algorithm changes it made in April. Several of them had to do with local. These included: more local sites from organizations, improvements to local navigational searches, more comprehensive predictions for local queries and improvements to the triggering of Google’s public data search.

It’s getting closer to the end of May, so before too long we should see Google’s big list of changes for this month. It will be interesting to see how many of these are related to local searches.

Google Changes P.O. Box Rules for Businesses

Google Small Business just announced in its Product Forums that it’s changed some if its policies regarding P.O. boxes. Basically, P.O. Boxes are no longer permitted in either address lines 1 or 2, when a business is submitting its location information, to better align with Google Maps.

In the past, users would list their P.O. Box in address line 2, as seen in the screen shot below:

google maps

The P.O. box would then be manually reviewed by Google during a “pending” status, in order to verify the accuracy of the first address line. Google is no longer doing this, and directs users to take the follwing new steps:

- Make sure your listing remains active:
- Sign in at places.google.com
- Select “Edit”
- Remove the term “P.O. Box” from the address fields
- Save your changes

If a user is prompted to reverify, and can’t do so with the available options, Google directs them to this contact form.

In related news, Google recently began allowing users of its maps to add their home and work locations, to better track their whereabouts.

Oracle vs. Google: Jury Sides with Android

In Google’s drawn-out court proceedings regarding Oracle’s accusations that the search giant infringed upon Java API patents in the development of its Android operating system, a jury has just found that no copyrights were violated.

Google released a statement on the matter – “Today’s jury verdict that Android does not infringe Oracle’s patents was a victory not just for Google but the entire Android ecosystem.”

The trial had been down to a jury ruling on the APIs since last week, after 18 months of litigation, which at times looked like Google might be shelling out a billion dollars in damages – in a trial that had the potential to reshape the entire concept of fair use in software development. And beyond money and legality, the case displayed an air of corporate hubris, with overtly tanned and jetliner-owning CEOs acting flippant on the stand, while some of the best attorneys money can buy actually took the time to learn how to traverse the sort of Java scripts Google manipulated while building Android.

Though, for the last while, it looked more and more like Oracle really didn’t have much of a case, and the jury has finally spoken. Google’s Matt Cutts has already taken to Twitter with news of the ruling:

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Google AdWords Launches Tools for Smarter Marketing

Google AdWords Launches Tools for Smarter Marketing

Once again Google is adding some features to their AdWords site to help users get more milage from their campaigns. This time they’re offering an Auction insights report that will allow you to compare what others are doing and extract what might work for you.

The Impression share columns Google currently uses allow you to see how many impressions you actually received versus how many you were eligible for. The new tool will allow you to make valuable comparisons with other advertiser’s efforts and discover where you have more opportunities or where you are wasting your time and money.

Here’s what Google said about the enhancements on their AdWords blog site:

With the Auction insights report, you can compare your performance with other advertisers who compete in the same set of auctions as you do. You can see how often your ads rank higher than other advertisers’ ads on the search results page, and how often your ads appear compared to theirs based on your estimated possible impressions. This information can help you make strategic decisions about bids, budgets, and keyword choices by showing you where you are succeeding and where you may be missing opportunities for improved performance.

The report from Auction gives you five different statistics from your work including impression share, average position, overlap rate, position above rate, and top of page percent. The reports are generated from one keyword at a time. So if you spend a lot of time analyzing your performance using AdWords, these new tools could really benefit you.

Facebook Dominating Android Says NPD Report

Facebook Dominating Android Says NPD Report

Google, or at least Matt Cutts, may be congratulating Facebook on going public, but they are still rivals. They both want to connect the world in ways that allows them to service customers and sell ads. Google may think it has the home field advantage in specific areas, but Facebook has taken at least one Google property – Android.

The NPD Group released a study yesterday on the eve of the Facebook IPO that found over three-fourths of all Android users use their phones to access Facebook. That’s more than any other social networking service which makes Facebook king of Android. The reach doesn’t just extend to the Facebook app, but also mobile Web access.

Facebook’s app and Web reach are both sitting anywhere between 70 and 75 percent. That’s a massive number and one that the other social networking sites can’t even come close to matching. It was found that Twitter is sitting at second with only 23 percent reach in Web and 18 percent reach in apps. Google’s own service, Google+, has been lagging behind for the past nine months with only 16 percent reach in Web and 10 to 15 percent reach in apps.

Facebook is also dominating the amount of time people spend on apps. Users spend roughly 15 minutes a day on Facebook via Android devices which translates to 470 minutes a month. The amount of people spend on Facebook is second only to games, but NPD points out that Facebook is used more often with the average user opening the app six times a day.

“Ultimately, Facebook’s mobile success rests on delivering compelling mobile app and web experiences, and monetizing on these experiences,” said Linda Barrabee, research director, NPD Connected Intelligence. “In order to do this, Facebook needs to ensure that monetization efforts via advertising enhance and do not disrupt the mobile social consumer experience; and with Facebook’s IPO looming and trading expected to begin on May 18, all eyes are on the company.”

Facebook has taken this lesson to heart as Mark Zuckerberg has recently commented on the Facebook mobile experience. He says that the rise in mobile use has led Facebook to rethink their strategy of how they utilize mobile. There are not as many ads in the mobile Facebook experience so they’re losing out on all that delicious ad revenue when so many people now access the site via mobile applications.

While Facebook may be dominating the Android platform, Google can rest easy in the fact that they’re currently trading at $600 compared to Facebook’s $38. Sure, it may not seem fair to compare a company that’s been trading for years to one that just started trading, but all’s fair in love, war and tech IPOs.

[h/t: MediaPost]

What If The Google Penguin Update Inadvertently Killed The Web As We Know It?

What If The Google Penguin Update Inadvertently Killed The Web As We Know It?

Note: Perhaps the headline of this article is a little sensational, but don’t overlook the “what if” part. I’m not suggesting Google has some plot to kill the web. However, many businesses rely on Google and people are freaking out about backlinks. Some are going so far as to threaten legal action if links are not removed. Links. If such legal action ever resulted in the outlawing of links in any capacity, the web as we know it could be put into great jeopardy. People would be afraid to link. I don’t think Google intends for anything like that to happen, but people don’t always respond to things in the most rational of ways. I don’t believe we will see links outlawed, or that the Penguin update will kill the web. However, reactions to Google penalties are leading to some pretty strong actions from some.

Google has said on multiple occasions that it thinks the Penguin update has been a success. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments.

PageRank And The Web

WWW, as you may know, stands for World Wide Web. It’s a web because it it’s connected by links. Sites all over the web link to one another, creating a path for users to click from page to the next. Often those pages are to different sites. This is the way it has worked for years. Just think what it would be like if sites couldn’t freely link to one another. The web would be broken, and users would suffer.

When Google launched with its PageRank algorithm, it was a revolution in search. It seemed to be a better way of doing search. It gave a rhyme and reason to the ranking of search results. Today, Google uses over 200 signals to rank its search results, which are becoming more personalized than ever before. PageRank still matters, but it’s far from the only thing that matters.

Yet, it is PageRank that has given links on the web so much power to influence the visibility of web content. Now that just about everyone is on the web, everyone is fighting to have their content seen. Once upon a time, you would have thought: the more links the better. More links can only lead to more chances people will see your content. Now, somewhat ironically, people are finding that that the links they have out there are making their content less visible. In some cases, they’re making it practically non-existent in Google, or at least so buried, it might as well be non-existent.

Freak Out Time?

Google’s Penguin update has been a major wake up call to webmasters about certain kinds of linking practices. The update was designed to target sites violating Google’s quality guidelines. Among those guidelines are: “Don’t participate in link schemes” and “Avoid hidden text or hidden links.”

Some of Google’s guidelines are obvious – avoid obviously unethical practices. But in the link schemes department, things can get a little blurry. Just ask WPMU.org, which got hit by Penguin over a few questionable links (interestingly enough, after seemingly benefiting from Google’s Panda update, designed to reward higher quality sites).

A lot of webmasters have taken to the forums and blogs to complain about the Penguin update, but Google has, on more than on occasion, deemed the update a success. We’ll also be seeing it come back around every so often, much like its Panda predecessor.

Even before Penguin, Google was sending out tons of messages to webmasters alerting them of questionable links. All of this has gotten webmasters in to a frenzy to clean-up their link profiles, and reduce the number of links Google considers to be of poor quality, in hopes that their content can find its way back into Google search visibility.

Legal Action Over Links?

Some webmasters have even gone so far as to threaten legal action over sites that are linking to them. We referenced this in another article after Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable mentioned that this was happening. Now, Greg Finn at Search Engine Land has pointed to a specific example where PSKL got a DMCA take down notice from LifeShield, after writing a positive review.

Now, to be clear, this DMCA takedown notice is not in reference to any content theft or content use. It’s about links. It threatens legal action. It says:

I request you to remove from following website (pskl.us)
all links to www.lifeshield.com website as soon as possible.
In order to find the links please do the following:
1) If this is an online website directory, use directory’s search system to find “LifeShield” links.
2) If there are hidden links in the source code of website, open website’s main page and view its source code. Search for “lifeshield.com” in the source code and you will see hidden links.

It also says:

LifeShield, Inc will be perusing legal action if the webmaster does not remove the referenced link within 48 hours.

Jeremy at PSKL actually shares the entire conversation around the matter, which did include an apology, indicating that PSKL shouldn’t have been on the list of sites that received a notice. Jeremy, however, took issue that there was a list of sites getting such notices. Throughout the conversation, it is revealed that LifeShield had a site “cloak lifeshield and generate over 700K back links” without LifeShield’s knowledge, and that “Google stepped in and slapped” them with a penalty, which led to layoffs at the company.

Jeremy responded with, “So you’re saying that somebody went out and bought 700K back links for you, knowing that it would get you penalized by Google? So does that mean you had (Company name) send out 700K DMCA notices? Talk about throwing good money after bad. Report the linkspam to the spam team at Google, then spend that money on an SEO expert rather than on trying to bully people with intimidation.”

The response was actually longer than that, and included the metaphor of putting out a house fire with manure, but that was the main gist.

I suggest reading Jeremy’s entire post. It’s pretty interesting.

Is This Where The Web Should Go?

He does make another important point in this: A party creating large quantities of backlinks to a site in order to generate SEO (or, in this case, destroy SEO) is unethical. It is not illegal.

While many may not have a problem with such practices becoming illegal, it’s the idea that the law could intervene with linking in any form that could lead to greater problems. Just consider all fo the gray area there already is in fair use law. There will always be different interpretations, and that can get dangerous.

For the record (granted, I’m no lawyer), I wouldn’t expect any legal action, such as that threatened in LifeShield’s DMCA notice to hold much water in a court of law. Finn also points to two cases (Ford Motor Company v. 2600 Enterprises) and (Ticketmaster Corp. v. Tickets.com, Inc.), where the legality of linking prevailed.

But even if things like this have to go to court, it’s going to be a major inconvenience, and legal fees will have to be paid. If sites practicing legitimate, ethical linking habits get caught up in this, where will that leave the web?

Is this what linking on the World Wide Web will become? Will you have to worry about getting sued because you linked to a site, and that site may or may not find your site to be a strong enough site to desire a link from? Could you get sued because your page didn’t have a high enough PageRank, and not enough link juice to help the site you’re linking to in its search engine visibility?

LifeShield seems to be targeting some very specific webspam, but sending out notices to a whole list of sites. It’s likely that LifeShield isn’t the only company panicing and resorting to such action. It’s unfortunate, for the company if some negative SEO (it’s unclear if this was from a competitor) was able to have such an impact on its business, as Jeremy suggests, this may not be the best way of trying to resolve the issue.

Let’s Give Google Some Credit.

You can point to Google’s guidelines and its algorithm updates, which clearly do cause some to think this way, but just the same, Google can’t be held entirely to blame for this kind of mentality either. The company has said in the past that people shouldn’t obsess with PageRank, and that it uses over 200 signals to rank content. PageRank is not the only thing that matters. In fact, the company puts out huge lists of signal changes every month.

It shows the power over society that Google really holds though. It shows how much businesses rely on Google search that they will go so far as to threaten sites that are simply linking to them with legal action.

Should such legal action ever lead to a victory in court, that could mean very bad news for the Web as we know it, and people could be afraid to link. I would imagine that would spawn more issues of sites not getting the credit (and possible referral traffic) they deserve.

Do you think Google’s guidelines and penalties can have an influence on the law? Now that would be power, and made even more ironic still, by the fact that Google is constantly under scrutiny of its own.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image: Batman Returns (Warner Bros.)

Iran Might Sue Over Google Map

Iran, the world’s worst oppressor of internet freedom, has ironically been complaining about Google’s omission of the Persian Gulf name in its map of the region, and is now reportedly considering a lawsuit.

For a bit of backstory, Iran accused Google of lacking credibility after noticing that the word ‘Persian Gulf’ was omitted from its map of the area. Below is a similar map from 1994, which would likely pass quality control in Iran:

persian gulf

Bahman Dorri, a deputy in Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry, had said, “Google is fabricating lies – will not have any outcome but for its users to lose trust in the data the company provides.” Other Arab countries in the region typically refer to the body of water as the “Arabian Gulf” or simply “the Gulf.” But Iran likes to say “Persian Gulf.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast states, “Toying with modern technologies in political issues is among the new measures by the enemies against Iran, (and) in this regard, Google has been treated (us) as a plaything,” adding, “omitting the name Persian Gulf is (like) playing with the feelings and realities of the Iranian nation.”

A spokesperson for Google explained to CNN, “It’s just simply the case that we don’t have a label for every body of water.” The Google map above shows that the Arabian Sea is also missing, as well as the Gulf of Oman.

I assume Mehmanparast meant to convey that Google had “treated Iran like a plaything,” though perhaps the country is being a bit pedantic in its Google map searching habits.

Is Googlebot Getting More Human-Like?

Is Googlebot Getting More Human-Like?

Google may be getting better at crawling javascript and Ajax.

In a Tumblr post, developer Alex Pankratov wrote this week about spotting an “ajax request issued from document.ready() callback of one website’s pages.”

“This means that the bot now executes the Javascript on the pages it crawls,” Pankratov wrote. “The IP of 66.249.67.106 is crawl-66-249-67-106.googlebot.com and the A record is a match, so this is in fact a Google Bot.”

He then shows a line, which he says “is fetched via Ajax by a Javascript function in response to the menu item click,” and adds, “Also, note the x argument – it is dynamically added and only by that specific function. This means that the bot now emulates a user clicking around the site and then seeing which actionable items lead to which additional pages.”

Sean Gallagher at Ars Technica equates this to Googlebot learning to read interactive pages more like humans. “It appears Google’s bots have been trained to act more like humans to mine interactive site content, running the JavaScript on pages they crawl to see what gets coughed up,” he writes.

Google has indicated that it is getting better at handling javascript and AJAX. Here’s a video Google’s Matt Cutts put out about how Google handles AJAX a while back:

Cutts was asked, “How effective is Google now at handling content supplied via Ajax, is this likely to improve in the future?”

He responded, “Well, let me take Ajax, which is Asynchronous Javascript, and make it just Javascript for the time being. Google is getting more effective over time, so we actually have the ability not just to scan in strings of Javascript to look for URLs, but to actually process some of the Javascript. And so that can help us improve our crawl coverage quite a bit, especially if people use Javascript to help with navigation or drop-downs or those kinds of things. So Asynchronous Javascript is a little bit more complicated, and that’s maybe further down the road, but the common case is Javascript.”

“And we’re getting better, and we’re continuing to improve how well we’re able to process Javascript,” he continues. “In fact, let me just take a little bit of time and mention, if you block Javascript or CSS in your robots.txt, where Googlebot can’t crawl it, I would change that. I would recommend making it so that Googlebot can crawl the Javascript and can crawl the CSS, because that makes it a lot easier for us to figure out what’s going on if we’re processing the Javascript or if we’re seeing and able to process and get a better idea of what the page is like.”

Speaking of Googlebot, Google also put out a new video about the hardware and software that run it.

Google Schemer iPhone App Hits The App Store

Google Schemer iPhone App Hits The App Store

The iPhone app for Google’s intriguing new Schemer service hit the iOS App Store today, continuing Google’s fine tradition of apps that are feature-rich and aesthetically just okay (for the exception that proves the rule, see the new Google+ app).

What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of Schemer? Well, that’s okay. Google hasn’t actually made too big a deal out of the service, though perhaps they should. Schemer was first introduced back in December. At the time it was in an invite-only closed beta, so getting in to try the service out was not easy. Google finally opened Schemer to the public late last month and launched an update to the Android app, promising that an iPhone app would be coming along shortly.

In case you’re not familiar with it, Schemer is meant to help you find cool things to do out in the real world. Basically, it’s Google’s way of helping inspire people to actually get out from in front of their computers and do stuff. The things that you do are called “Schemes,” and they can be pretty much anything at all: reading a book, watching a movie, hiking a trail, seeing a landmark, cooking a meal, and more. It can be simple stuff like “read Steve Jobs’s biography,” or “watch all the Lord of the Rings movies in one sitting.” It can also be more complicated stuff like “learn HTML,” or “write a novel.” It also has social aspects, which is to say that it integrates with your Google+ account and allows you to share your Schemes to other social networks like Facebook and Twitter. Basically if you take social networking, check-in services like Foursquare or GetGlue, and a giant to-do list for your life and shake them all up together, you’ve pretty much got Schemer.

So, now that you know what Schemer is, it’s time to talk about the iPhone app. You already got the short version up above: the app has is pretty well kitted out in the feature department, but not all that pleasant to look at. When you open up Schemer on your iPhone, you’re first treated to your basic sign-in screen. Schemer doesn’t have a separate login, so you just sign in with your Google account:

Google Schemer

Once logged in, you’re taken to your profile. Here you can see how many times you’ve inspired people (i.e., how many people have done or said they wanted to do a Scheme you created). You can also access the Schemes you want to complete, those you have completed, and more. Scroll down a bit and you see your top Schemes. (Note: Any conclusions you can draw about my personality based on my top Scheme are… probably accurate.)

Google Schemer

The Schemes page is designed to help you find stuff to do. As you can see, the top two selections are designed to help you find stuff in your immediate area, and stuff you can do without leaving your house. Tapping either of these will prompt you to select some favorite categories, so Schemer can streamline your options a bit. Below that, you can pick Schemes in a pretty wide variety of categories ranging from entertainment to hobbies to fashion to fitness.

Google Schemer

Of course, you can also create Schemes. Tapping the pencil-and-paper button at the top of the Schemes page brings you to a screen where you can type in whatever kind of Scheme you want. Here, though, we come to the one place where Schemer is lacking a feature that might be nice to have: there’s no way to put your new Scheme in any particular category. You can choose whether to make it public or not (hence the lock icon in the top right corner of the screen), but you can’t decide which category it should go in.

Google Schemer

You can also choose from the seemingly endless variety of Schemes that have been created by other Schemers, or by the Schemer team itself:

Google Schemer

Once you’ve chosen a Scheme, you can see more details about it, as well as what other Schemers are saying. You can also choose whether you want to do it or have already done it.

Google Schemer

You can also share Schemes you find with your friends via email, or on social networks like Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also add to the conversation about the Scheme, or you can delete it (if it’s a Scheme that you created).

Google Schemer

All in all, Schemer is a pretty awesome service. The app is available for free from the iOS App Store, and the Android version is available on Google Play. Give it a try, and let us know what you think in the comments.

Google Analyzes How People Use Smartphones In Different Countries

Earlier, we looked a new report from Adobe, indicating that the share of website visits from tablets grew ten times faster than the rate of smartphones in a two-year period. Now, Google has released some research about smartphone adoption around the world.

“Today, Australia, U.K., Sweden, Norway, Saudi Arabia and UAE each have more than 50 percent of their population on smartphones,” says Google Mobile Ads Group Product Marketing Manager Dai Pham. “An additional seven countries—U.S., New Zealand, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland—now have greater than 40 percent smartphone penetration. In the U.S., 80 percent of smartphone owners say they don’t leave home without their device—and one in three would even give up their TV before their mobile devices!”

Pham shares some highlights on the Mobile Ads Blog:

  • The UK (51%), Sweden (51%) and Norway (54%) all saw a dramatic increase of more than 20% in smartphone adoption in less than one year.
  • 52% of Australians own a smartphone, 15% more than did last year.
  • Among the 26 countries, smartphone penetration was highest in the Middle East at 62% in the UAE and 60% in Saudi Arabia.
  • Argentina is starting to see strong traction in smartphone adoption as nearly a quarter of the population (24%) uses a smartphone.
  • 68% of smartphone users in China, 73% in Saudi Arabia and 72% in Argentina are searching on their mobile device daily.
  • Consumers in Egypt and Brazil are among the heaviest social networkers with 91% and 88% of smartphone users doing this.
  • 59% of smartphone owners in China have made a purchase on their device, the highest among all countries in this study.
  • 91% of Mexican smartphone owners look for local information and 88% take action.
  • 58% of the French visit a business after looking for local information
  • 48% of smartphone users in the UAE call a business after a local smartphone search.
  • 80% of Japanese use their mobile device while consuming other media. 53% use their phones while watching TV and 30% while using the Internet on their computer.
  • In the US, 51% use their phones while listening to music
  • In Spain, 36% engage with mobile while reading a magazine.
  • 75% in Brazil have performed a mobile search after seeing an offline ad.
  • 100% of smartphone owners in Japan use their phone to research a purchase.
  • 36% of Egyptians have changed their mind about a purchase while in a store due to smartphone research.
  • People are researching items on their smartphones before making a purchase in other channels. 52% in Ireland end up making a purchase on their computer and 37% in Argentina purchase in a store after researching on their smartphones.

Google has put together an interactive chart-building tool to showcase various global smartphone data at a site it has set up called Our Mobile Planet.

Our mobile planet by Google

Google’s data shows that the smartphone should really be a part of your online strategy. While Adobe’s tablet study showed tremendous growth of tablets, it also highlighted how much more engaging tablets are for the mobile web traffic. People simply like browsing the web better on tablets than smartphones, and this is likely because people aren’t optimizing their sites for mobile.

“Tablets are better for surfing than smartphones,” Adobe Digital Index Director, Austin Bankhead, tells WebProNews.

Typically, there’s not as much optimization needed for tablets. They tend to handle the regular desktop versions of sites better because the screens aren’t as small, but considering the data like what Google is showing, it’s clear that there is a whole lot of smartphone use going on around the world, and if you’re not optimizing your site for mobile, you’re probably missing out on a lot of opportunity.