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Google Bribes Users to Post Restaurant Reviews

Google is still trying to beat Yelp at the user review game.

Google/Official

Google is trying to beef up its Local Guides feature, a piece of Google Maps that feels and acts like Yelp or Foursquare in giving recommendations and offering user-generated insights into businesses like restaurants. The Verge reports the search engine is turning the information, photographs, reviews, and ratings that users provide into a sort of game.

Each time a user submits a bit information — a photograph of a place, a review, a star rating, or an answer to a question — they earn points. These points can then be turned in for perks like early access to Google products, travel to a reviewer "summit," and even a terabyte of Google storage, which is valued at $9.99.

It's clear that though Google Maps is the most widely used map program, when it comes to deciding where to eat, users are more likely to use Yelp or another similar application. Apps that specialize in making restaurant recommendations have a long way to go, and are powered by a weird mix of human and artificial intelligence.

Will incentives and a game-like strategy convince Google Maps users to help Google Local Guides win the confidence of its users? And what does this mean for Zagat's existing recommendations and star ratings?

As the Verge notes, Google is at least ahead of one other major player: Apple. Earlier this year Apple finally updated its Maps program to offer its own version of street view and transit directions. The real question is whether Apple will consider the value in user reviews as it continues to expand its proprietary Maps program.

The points system for Google's Local Guides is listed below:

Level 1 (0 to 4 points):
Get the inside scoop with the Local Guides monthly newsletter.
Join Google-hosted workshops and Hangouts.
In select countries, enter in exclusive contests for Local Guides.

Level 2 (5 to 49 points):
Get early access to new Google products and features.
Promote your own meet-ups on the Local Guides calendar

Level 3 (50 to 199 points): 
Get noticed with your Local Guides badge in Google Maps.
Connect with other Local Guides in our exclusive Google+ Community.
Lead the conversation by moderating Local Guides community channels.
Receive invites to Google-hosted events in select cities.

Level 4 (200 to 499 points):
Upgrade your Google Drive storage free with 1 TB of Drive storage.
Be eligible to be featured in Local Guides online channels.
Receive an annual thank you gift.

Level 5 (500+ points): 
Be a Google insider, testing new products before public release.
Apply to attend Google's Level 5 Local Guides summit.

The reason this feels like a new Google play against Yelp is because Google and Yelp have long been at odds. The most recent formal accusation came in mid-2014 when Yelp revealed an internal study which found Google had manipulated search results to favor Zagat and its own products rather than Yelp pages, which are often better optimized for search engine traffic. The conflicts between Google and Yelp started in 2009 when Yelp walked away from negotiations in which the search engine giant offered to pay $500 for the review and listing company.