What to Expect from Google and Zagat

Google announced today that it has purchased Zagat. Zagat's maroon pocket-sized guides have been a staple of tourists and travelers for decades, and now the reviews and ratings of restaurants, hotels, and other destinations can be incorporated into the vast "Googleverse". So, what does that mean for you and me?

Basically, Google will be able to integrate Zagat ratings and reviews, and combine them with comments and +1s from Google+ and the rest of your extended Google network to provide more valuable and relevant search results and content.

Zagat ratings and reviews will make Google Search and Google Maps more useful.
Zagat was Yelp before PCs were mainstream, and before there was an Internet to speak of--at least for mainstream, public use. It is a respected name in food and lodging reviews--the Consumer Reports of restaurant and travel ratings.

Google's Marissa Mayer, VP of Local, Maps and Location Services, declared in a post on the Official Google Blog, "Zagat provides people with a democratized, authentic and comprehensive view of where to eat, drink, stay, shop and play worldwide based on millions of reviews and ratings," adding, "For all of these reasons, I'm incredibly excited to collaborate with Zagat to bring the power of Google search and Google Maps to their products and users, and to bring their innovation, trusted reputation and wealth of experience to our users."

So, here is what to expect as Google moves to integrate the Zagat brand:

Broader Zagat Coverage

Zagat has been around since 1979. But, in those 32 years it has only managed to hit about 100 cities around the world. That may be fine for printing pocket-sized paperback guides, but it probably won't be good enough for Google. This is a company that is sending the Google StreetView team down the Amazon River because...well, why the hell not? That's why. Expect to see Zagat coverage expanded on a much broader scale under Google's stewardship.

More Interactive Zagat

Zagat has managed to keep up with the times. It has online content, and it offers one of the coolest apps available for the iPhone. The Zagat iPhone app uses augmented reality and the iPhone camera to overlay reviews and comments on the image of the street right in front of you. It's a neat trick.

But, as Zagat content is interwoven with Google Search, Google Maps, and other services, it will take the service to a whole new level of social interaction. Searching for a restaurant or hotel on Google will take on new meaning when the results come complete with Zagat ratings, and when the results are integrated with +1s and Google+ so that you can get more personal results based on the reviews and comments of your own social network.

Yelp Who?

This deal could have been Yelp. Google was in negotiations to buy Yelp which were rumored to be a done deal, but Yelp walked away, leaving $500 million on the table. Now it finds itself in direct competition with Google instead. Does this deal mean that Yelp is dead? No. Not at all. Just look at the initial predictions of the demise of Groupon when Facebook launched Deals, or of Foursquare when Facebook launched Places.

The reality is that it an entity like Yelp (or Groupon, or Foursquare) has to work harder to differentiate itself and demonstrate value when faced with a rival the size of Google or Facebook, but it can be done. I wouldn't be surprised to see Yelp acquired by Microsoft or Facebook, or at least form some sort of strategic alliance.

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