When news broke that Google is buying the Zagat restaurant review empire, everybody thought it was a joke. It's easy to see why one might laugh at the idea of Google, the company that famously favors algorithmic knowledge over editorial judgement, is buying a business built on editorial judgement. But the Zagat purchase, along with a pronounced mission to build out their local listings offerings, points to the idea that Google wants to be a content company. Buying Zagat is a serious move in the right direction.
Google has tried this before. In 2009, the search giant offered Yelp over half a billion dollars to buy their crowdsourced local business reviews site. It's not entirely clear whether Yelp walked away for the deal or if Google had second thoughts, but the deal fell through, leaving Google two years to watch the local space expand. Expand it did, and Google followed, adding new features like their Groupon clone Google Offers and location-based Yelp equivalent Google Places. But as we recently pointed out, Google's crowdsourcing model has been riddled with problems. Local businesses were flagging their competitors's listings, saying that the business were closed or posting fake reviews. As our own Rebecca Greenfield said, "It's not that crowdsourcing never works, but for companies that have such large user bases things can get messy."