Google Inc. began incorporating Zagat reviews more fully into its social network and the rest of its ecosystem Wednesday, making the content freely available online for the first time.
Google+ Local is replacing Google Places and offering the crowd-sourced reviews of restaurants and other businesses to users of the Mountain View, Calif., search giant's social network as well as other features, such as Google Maps.
"One of the things that became very clear is that reviews are a cornerstone to any local strategy," Google executive Marissa Mayer told the Los Angeles Times in an interview Tuesday. "Social is local. When people are picking something for a birthday dinner or an important event, they want a recommendation they can trust."
Google launched Places in October of 2010, seeking to bundle information about generic search terms into packages of information relevant to a user's search. For instance, a search for "SFO restaurants" would present results that packaged photos, links to reviews and contact information, along with a map showing the location.
But Google ran into trouble with the service when San Francisco-based Yelp and similar sites complained that the company was improperly using its user-generated reviews for the service. The complaints are part of a long-running antitrust investigation into Google by the Federal Trade Commission.
In September 2011, Google sought to solve those issues by purchasing Zagat for $151 million, bringing on a well-respected reviews guide that was established in 1979. The New York City company offered what "may be one of the earliest forms of UGC (user-generated content)," Mayer wrote in a blog post at the time, thanks to its 350,000 "surveyors" who report on local restaurants and businesses.
The Zagat reviews on Google+ Local will continue to use its 30-point rating system, which breaks down ratings into specific 5-point categories, such as food, decor, ambience and service for restaurants. User reviews will have ratings on a three-point scale.
Zagat.com was a pay-to-view website, but will now be free and open to the public, founders and co-chairs Nina and Tim Zagat announced in a Google+ post, along with Managing Director Bernardo Hernandez. Zagat's well-known red-leather-bound books will continue to be sold.
"As we've always done, we will continue to develop high-quality content based on consumer surveys, and make that content available in print, online and on mobile," the blog post read.
Like Google Places, Google+ Local will offer its services through the company's search, maps and mobile functions, which will more fully integrate the company's young social network with the rest of its offerings. Users will be able to offer their thoughts on a restaurant or business directly through the service, which will then post to their Google+ account and be visible to other users.
The change should also help prompt business owners to create Google+ pages, as that will be the hub of the new service.
"With one listing, your business can now be found across Google search, maps, mobile and Google+, and your customers can easily recommend your business to their friends, or tell the world about it with a review," Google Vice President of Engineering Jen Fitzpatrick wrote in a blog post about the changes.
To encourage businesses to create pages and provide examples of Google+ Local for users, Google pushed some businesses to the forefront of this project early, including famed San Francisco restaurant Delfina.
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