Today Google rolled out Google+ Local, a significant overhaul of the company's previously-unsuccessful Google Places business pages. The new Google+ Local place pages leverage Google's dominant position in search and mapping, integrating those alongside reviews/recommendations from a user's contacts in Google+, and the 0-to-30 ratings and reviews from Zagat.
In addition, all of Zagat's reviews and ratings will no longer be hidden behind a paywall. VP Marissa Mayer told the New York Times that Google plans to create "pages for all known places."
Back in September, Google acquired Zagat for $151 million to get into the local review business and battle the likes of Yelp and Foursquare. (Google failed to acquire Yelp in December 2009 for $500M.) This is the first real integration of Zagat and Google.
In the announcement post, Avni Shah, Director of Product Management boasted that Zagat's user-generated reviews are "high-quality" and that "all" of Zagat's scores are "accurate."
Google+ Local pages also prominently display Zagat's "quote-heavy" summaries cobbled together by editors. And sometimes it falls apart:
Keeping local information up to date — especially restaurants that open, close, or change direction with little warning — is very, very difficult. An army of editors is needed; the data must be updated with vigilance. Unfortunately, a cursory scan of Zagat's summaries in Google+ Local's pages reveals that a fair amount of basic information is deeply, deeply flawed.
Example #1: See Uchi Houston, the Houston outpost of Tyson Cole's celebrated Austin restaurant Uchi that opened February 2nd. The Zagat summary for Uchi Houston copies verbatim the summary for Uchi. Both say "P.S. a Houston outpost is coming soon." This information is at least 120 days out of date.
Example #2: See Eleven Madison Park, the New York City restaurant founded by Danny Meyer and sold to its chef Daniel Humm and its General Manager Will Guidara late last year. The official handover was November 10, 2011. The Zagat summary reads: "'Top of the line' even for Danny Meyer..." This information is at least 200 days out of date.
More examples: Washington DC's Casa Nonna closed a week ago; Google+ Local says it's still open. Miami's Sustain Restaurant + Bar closed three weeks ago; Google+ Local says it's still open. Same thing with Todd English's Boston restaurant Kingfish Hall: it closed three weeks ago, Google+ Local says it's still open. The NYC gastropub Mary Queen of Scots closed May 1st; Google+ Local says it's still open.. NYC's Kate's Joint was seized by marshals on April 17th; Google+ Local says it's still open. Los Angeles' Chado Tea Room closed April 13; surprise: Google+ Local says it's still open. Also in Santa Monica: La Cachette Bistro closed January 16; Google+ Local says it's still open.
Even basic information — like ownership or the food served — is woefully out of date. On April 17th, Boston's East Coast Grill officially changed ownership, with longtime chef-owner Chris Schlesinger transferring the reigns to three of his staff. The Google+ Local's Zagat summary reads: "'Hot times in Inman Square' happen at Chris Schlesinger's 'tried-and-true' home." And last week chef David Chang announced that his NYC restaurant Ma Peche was no longer serving the "beef seven ways" large-format meal due to the increased price of beef; Google+ Local's Zagat summary hails the "'must-try' Beef Seven Ways."
Perhaps these errors are a symptom of Zagat's print-based legacy, but all of the above examples show some seriously fundamental flaws. The basics — is a place open or closed? — are missing. Mayer told the LA Times: "When people are picking something for a birthday dinner or an important event, they want a recommendation they can trust." But if the basic information is incorrect and/or outdated, how much trust can a user have in the service?
Anyway, here's a video of it in action:
Video: Google+ Local: See Reviews from your friends