First off, big disclaimer, I have a strong vested interest in this topic, since I run a customer reviews solutions company. But it also means I have some insight and knowledge of this topic.
Google Search has always been about automatically indexing content and trying to make the best content bubble to the top. And that is why it became the most successful search engine, period. Many of us can still remember Yahoo trying to manually manage "the best of the web" or even worse the hellhole that was DMOZ (and I was an editor!).
Why then has Google insisted on taking an old 1990s completely unscalable approach to Places data until very recently? All of the Places reviews are there because Google has done a biz dev deal with someone. That's why you see TripAdvisor, Zagat and others, not because it is the best content, but because they are partners.
Yesterday Google announced Hotpot and ye know what, well done GOOG, not bad at all. The first Google App around location and social that works well. It is, dare I say it, what Buzz V1 should have been.
In Hotpot you search either in the web app, Maps or in Android Maps, find the biz you want, write a review and it then appears on their Places page. You use a Google account to ID yourself and you can give text/stars/favourite on your review. Clean, simple. good. If I was Yelp, Qype, TripAdvisor etc, I'd be worried for the first time.
Quick aside: Why the hell is the check-in project not part of this? Please tell me they're not going to release a completely separate 4SQ-type app? Hopefully they are just iterating and it's coming soon.
I did some quick test reviews this morning and all worked well. So Google's partners can now populate your Places page with reviews; random strangers and your competitors can populate your Places page with reviews; but you, the business still can't populate your own Places page with verified customer reviews (except perhaps nefariously).
This could be solved very easily. Hotpot/Places needs a WRITE API immediately. Anyone who wants to use the API does a quick sign-up promising to obey Ts & Cs around spam, veracity etc and they get access. No more human-managed queues. Multiple reports of abuse can be quickly investigated and those abusers ejected. This means that reviews of your business, no matter where they come from, can appear in Places and benefit you.
The upside for Google?
- No more messing with a massive backlog of applications for Rich Snippets or Places inclusion.
- More valuable data!
- A set of search results that are based on the principles upon which Google was founded, not biz dev.
- And most importantly of all, when they properly open up the Check-In WRITE API too, something that competes with and could beat Facebook Places. Tick tock.
Let's hope they do it. I don't think anyone wants to see Google Local turning into an Excite Portal circa 1999.