Google+ Local Off to a Mediocre Start

Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Product Management, got us off to an early start this morning by announcing the launch of Google+ Local on the CBS Morning News. On the official Google Blog they had this to say:

Today, we’re rolling out Google+ Local, a simple way to discover and share local information featuring Zagat scores and recommendations from people you trust in Google+. Google+ Local helps people like my husband turn a craving—“Wow, I need brunch”—into an afternoon outing: “Perfect, there’s a dim sum place with great reviews just two blocks from here. Let’s go.” It’s integrated into Search, Maps and mobile and available as a new tab in Google+—creating one simple experience across Google.

Essentially, Google is now integrating existing Place Pages into Google+, pulling in user reviews from other users, in addition to utilizing Zagat ratings, which they acquired last September. Unfortunately, this is where the frustration begins. In order to create a cohesive rating system across users and Zagat, Google had to figure out how to make the data they already had work.

The Rating Conversion

Zagat ratings are based on a 30-point scale, with Google user reviews previously being based on 5-star rating scale. Magically, today the star rating system has been converted to a 0 through 3-point scale:

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It appears Google has used some sort of system to convert the previous 5-star rating into a 4-point scale. Then, it begins to get a little more wonky. From Google’s help section on the matter:

Google+ Local scores

All scores in Google+ Local are determined by user reviews.

Individual user ratings are based on a 0 to 3 point scale.

3 Excellent 2 Very Good 1 Good 0 Poor to Fair

We take these ratings, average them, and then multiply by ten to arrive at averaged scores.

26-30 Extraordinary to perfection 21-25 Very good to excellent 16-20 Good to very good 10-15 Fair to good 0-9 Poor to fair

When you’re searching for locations in Google+ Local, you may see these scores depicted in two ways:

Scores with multiple aspects

These scores will show you several scores for different aspects of the business. For example, restaurants are scored across three areas–food, decor, and service–with food being the primary aspect.

Overall scores

When we don’t have enough user ratings on different aspects, we will just show an overall score. An overall score is comparable to a score in the primary aspect for a location, like food for restaurants.

So basically, Google figured out a way to make the old star system convert to a new point scale, and then converted that again so it will work with the Zagat rating system. The best part is the last paragraph quoted above, where when Google doesn’t have enough data for the segmented ratings for food, decor and services individually, they just assume all the ratings are about the food. I understand the new rating systems conforms to what Zagat has used since 1979, but personally (sorry Zagat) my brain doesn’t want to conform to a 30-point scale.

Minor Bugs at Launch

Obviously, the service just launched today and Google isn’t afraid to launch a new product knowing there are bugs in place. (Did anyone ever have a seamless Google Places experience?) The first bug I encountered was when I clicked on things they simply didn’t work and locked up the browser entirely.

Let me apologize to Lorelei Draper for saying her review wasn’t helpful, but I wanted to see what happened when I clicked the button….as you can see, it was nothing.

The next thing I noticed when looking at the Formic page on Google+ Local was the publishing function on the right side of the page. Google seems to want me to publish something, it’s just not quite entirely clear what…

The other issue I had, which might not really be an issue, is when I scrolled down the page the map on the right pane covered up the button I wanted to click. (I had to be creative to get the full screenshot above.) I say it might not be an issue because Google does the same thing in the organic search results intentionally, with the maps scrolling over the top of the ads in the right pane when the query has location intent.

It’s All About Mobile?

In the CBS interview, Marissa Mayer said that the move was all about mobile:

And ads on mobile devices, she said, make up “one of the biggest and fastest growing new areas for us at Google … but it’s very early. When you look at mobile usage, one of the most remarkable things about Google maps is that more than 50 percentage of the usage of Google maps comes from phones.

However, when I tried to check out Google+ Local on my phone I couldn’t find it. I logged in to Google+ through both my mobile browser and the Google+ App and I couldn’t even search for restaurants.

When I tried to access things through my browser I was prompted to download the Places App (not going to happen). In the official blog announcement Google showed screenshots from an Android device (obviously) so I guess for the time being iPhone users will have to wait for the integration. In the meantime, the goal of “creating one simple experience across Google” is not even close to happening.

What bugs or missed features would you like to see fixed/added over the coming months?

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