Meet Google+ Local, Zagat-Fueled Competition for Yelp

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This morning, Google announced a new component of its Plus offerings, one they hope will help you find a restaurant for dinner -- and will give it a leg up over Yelp.

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Google announced this morning a new Google+ feature, Google+ Local. The service is intended to help people find local restaurant listings, and is built upon listings from Zagat, which Google purchased last September. In addition, Google hopes that people will provide their own restaurant reviews and comments, much as they do on Yelp. The feature is an effort by Google to capture the local-search market. Google vice president Marissa Mayer told the New York Times that 20 percent of all Google searches are for local information, and that figure shoots up to 40 percent for searches performed on mobile devices.

Google+ Local will bring Google listings into even greater competition with Yelp, a company that has previously argued that Google's Places listings unfairly used Yelp content and that Google has used its market power to push Yelp down search results.

Even with Zagat behind it, Google+ Local has a steep hill ahead. Google+ is languishing, and if people have to access Google+ Local through the Google+ site or app, they may not want to bother. (Google does say that Local will be available through its Maps app, so there's some hope in that.) Additionally, it will be tough to match Yelp's depth and speed. As of right now, Local's listings don't seem particularly current. I did a quick search for Spanish food around our offices here at The Atlantic, curious whether Google+ Local would turn up a much-discussed new tapas place. It found nothing. When I searched the name of the restaurant specifically, I got a listing, but it had no reviews yet. Yelp, on the other hand, has 36 reviews up. It will take a long time to build up the kind of following that enables Yelp to quickly have reviews of new spots. And if Yelp already has it, why would people go to Google+ Local?

Additionally -- and weirdly -- Google+ Local gets rid of the central feature of Google+. For the new Google+ Local listings, if you want to write a review, you have to share it with everybody. Wasn't the whole point of Google+ supposed to be that you could share it with just a few select friends? Here's a screenshot of what happened when Alexis went to write a review:

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This is pretty surprising. I have a few friends who are serious about food, and it'd be great fun to have a Circle where I could see just their reviews and they could see mine. But with the current roll-out, that doesn't seem possible, and Google+ Local reviews will remain as open as Yelp's -- a service for all, not for your network. There's nothing inherently wrong with this (and the benefits of public reviews are obvious), but it'd be nice to have the choice of whom to share a review with, much like Google+ gives you that choice about everything else.

Overall, the new functionality is a recognition that what matters online going forward is more than what happens online, but how the Internet supports and strengthens what happens offline -- where we spend our time, what we eat, how the businesses around us fare. Google knows it needs to get in on that, but figuring out how is a much tougher proposition.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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