Yesterday, Google Maps finally took a step forward with the introduction of Google+ Local. Instead of moving backwards like their more recent Places updates have done, the new change explains why all those backwards steps were made.
Google+ Local was rolled out onto Google Maps, so when you use Google Maps and click “more info” on a location, it directs you to Google + Local instead of Google Places. Visually, it is currently similar to Facebook Company Pages mixed with Yelp. The new pages stylize the minimal information that Places had gone to, still ignoring “Payment Options” and “Additional Details”, and completely removing “Videos”, which seem to have just been swept under the rug for now. The other information on Google Places page will automatically transfer over to Local, and companies will still manage these pages from place.google.com just like before.
A sample Google Local page
This is yet another step by Google to get people to the Google+ realm, and they seem to have taken a step forward BECAUSE they took a step back. They have integrated the Zagat’s brand into Local, making Local very similar to Yelp!, with a more stylized design and an emphasis on basic Company Info, Pictures, and Reviews. You will now be able to find places, check in, upload pics, and review a location all within Local through your Google+ Account. These new pages do not provide as much detail as the Google Places page did in its heyday, but it has made using Maps and Company Pages more user-friendly. It may give people a reason to start using Google+; instead of trying to be Facebook, Local can start by being Yelp!/Foursquare, and once it has a user base built up, can bring them deeper into the social networking aspects. Your feed will also be populated automatically as you take pictures, check in, and write reviews.
Google is also rolling this out to Android phones, with iOS device support coming “soon”. This furthers their push into the new ideas in social media. The rise of the smartphone has moved people’s social networks off their computers and into their hands. 95% of my Twitter interaction happens by phone. Foursquare is 100%. By being in the smartphone world, they have taken a large step towards consistent and more frequent usage.
So what future does this hold for Google Local? In usage, it should work like Google Maps, Foursquare, Twitter, and Instagram combined. They may not be there yet, but from the looks of it, this is where they are trying to go.
How nice would this be?
Google is bringing together all the ways people like to share. The key to making this successful is by allowing people to faction it off to their liking. People use Instagram because they like to take and look at pictures, and Twitter to interact with people/companies. They have different tools to solve each job, and Google is giving them a Swiss Army Knife. Innovative? Perhaps. Will people use it? Only time will tell.