Quality Control of Venue Data in the Squash Players App

July 18, 2021

The Squash Players App contains the biggest, most up-to-date, and most accurate database of squash venues on the planet.

But perfection is a journey, never a destination!

Therefore we’re constantly looking for opportunites to improve (“clean”) the data at every touch point, i.e. when adding venues for the first time, when editing existing venue data, and when deleting (archiving) venues.

How do we quality control this?

There are multiple (sometimes overlapping) techniques we employ, both automatic and human/manual.

Google Maps

Our base venue data (name, address, telephone, etc.) comes from Google Maps, i.e. the “Places” that are stored on Google Maps.

By design, it’s not possible to add a venue to our database unless it’s already listed on Google Maps. Once added, our venue data is intextricably linked (in a one-way direction) to the corresponding Google Map data. If/when Google Map data improves, we automatically pick up those improvements and refresh our data accordingly. This includes the auto-archiving of venues in our database when the corresponding Places on Google Maps are marked as “Permanently Closed”.

Google gets its map data from multiple sources, and by multiple methods. It’s fantastic that we can confidently leverage this.

Crowdsourcing

Google Maps employs crowdsourcing in a number of ways, including:

  1. Business owners taking ownership over their own listing(s) on Google Maps via the Google My Business program.
  2. The Google Local Guides program. This enables the general public – you and me – to easily recommend improvements for everyone’s benefit. Some they accept, some they don’t. Some rejections are mystifyingly (they don’t give reasons). We do know that Google prefers you to be geographically near to a new place that you think should be added. These are Google’s instructions for adding a missing place to Google Maps.

If crowdsourcing is good enough for Google, it’s good enough for us!

It’s also worked out very well for Wikipedia, the people’s encylopedia.

Wikipedia, and crowdsourcing in general, works on the theory that for every one person who wants to abuse the privilege of easily editable content, there are 99 people who want to make things better. The good outweighs the bad, many times over. We strongly believe and observe that this is the TRUE human condition, unlike what we’re told every day in the news.

To facilitate crowdsourcing, we make it incredibly easily – some would say too easy – to make edits (improvements) to existing venue listings. After you’ve downloaded and installed the app, and created a free account, you’re free to make instant edits to any venue on the planet.

In this way we’re empowering squashies, globally, to lend a hand, to make it better for everyone.

Notifications & Alerts

In support of crowdsourcing, we’re working on improving notifications for when edits are made.

Members can “like” or “follow” a venue, most obviously one or more venues in their immediate locality, the ones they know most about from first-hand experience.

When edits are made to that venue by someone other than them, they’ll get in-app notifications to tell them what changed (before and after). If they don’t agree with the changes, then either they can change them back, and/or they can report the person who made the changes for possible malicious activity. Malicious activity will ultimately lead to account closure.

Human Checks and Balances

When a new venue is suggested, a real human validates that the venue actually has one or more squash courts. The main things we check are:

  1. Do their Google Map reviews mention squash courts?
  2. Does their website mention squash courts?
  3. Do they have any active social media accounts (e.g. Facebook) that clearly reference their squash courts?

If all the above fails, then our options are:

  1. Contact the member who made the suggestion, asking for more proof.
  2. Contact the venue itself (typically email, phone, or Facebook Messenger) to confirm the status of their courts.

If the above fails to prove the existence of squash courts, then we’ll manually reject the suggestion, including a short line of text explaining our decision. The person who suggested the venue receives this.

Automatic Validation and Verification

There are two main ways this happens:

  1. We pay close attention to making our venue form/data fields as foolproof as possible. For example, if you want to update how many courts a venue has, you can’t “free type” a number. You are forced (in a nice way!) to choose a whole number between 0 and 40. Typing in negative numbers, or fractions, or words, or numbers over 40, is impossible.
  2. We perform various real-time lookups to other data sources to check and improve the quality. This is particularly true for when we’re trying to standardise address information for venues. Quite surprisingly, Google doesn’t do as great a job of this, all the time, as you might expect. We have necessarily employed lots of “smarts” in our system to plug the gaps or inconsistencies in Google and other data.

In Summary

Despite of our best efforts, our venue data will never be perfect.

But we promise that – with your help – we’ll work tirelessly (not always in a straight line!) to make it ever better.

The best on the planet, bar none.

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About players.app

Players.App is a product of Itomic Pty Ltd, the Web/App Specialists www.itomic.com.au