Google+ Goes Local

With the unveiling of Google+ Local comes a new push towards regional customization for Internet searches. We no longer need to leave the comfort of our Google+ home page to read reviews, get recommendations and learn business info for stores, restaurants and services in our hometowns.

Google+ Local is sort of a hybrid of Google+ and Zagat. It finds reviews and recommendations from trusted friends and family members, and puts them right at our fingertips. Now, you won’t have to call up your neighbor to ask her what she thinks of that new sushi restaurant up the street. If she’s using Google+ Local, you can read her opinion right on your computer or smartphone screen.

Google has placed a “Local” tab on the left side of the Google+ page. You can use it to search for businesses close to home or work, or to learn about specific places. Once you click on a particular place, Google will direct you to a page with information like address, business hours, images, Zagat reviews and comments from your social circle.

You’ll probably run across Google+ Local even if you never use your Google+ home page. That’s because it pops up in other products like Google Maps and Search. They’ve integrated the information from Local into these other services, creating a local emphasis on the whole user experience.

Local gives each business you view a score based on Zagat’s 30-point system. This system tailors reviews based on different factors, so you can choose the features that you value most. For instance, a Chinese restaurant may have a décor rating of 28, but a food rating of just 12. If you don’t care about ambiance but just want to savor some amazing chow mein, you’ll know to keep on looking. The keywords at the side of the pop-up offer a glimpse at the style, with terms like “fresh” or “happy hour.” Cost information is also included, helping you to stay within your budget.

Of course, you know your own friends better than any random Zagat reviewer, so you may give their opinions more weight. If your peers are writing reviews, you will see them along with the rest of the information and can base your decision on their critiques instead.

You can also contribute your own reviews, and even share photos of your experiences. The more people join in with their opinions and information, the better this system is likely to work.

Local business owners can still use Google Places for Business to manage their profiles, and can expect even more social features in the future to allow customers to access their information