Mashup: Google Maps + Google Local
Google has brought Local out of beta and combined it with the surprisingly popular Google Maps in a single "map-centric" interface. Here's a search for "wine shops in Greenwich Village New York."
Brett Taylor, who's the new product manager at Google for Local and Maps (now that they're combined), said that Google had taken user feedback and "combined the best elements of both products" in the new Google Local.
There's nothing radical here, just incremental improvements. Google has added a "details" tab that allows users to see more information about a business/listing without clicking through to a site.
With its "map-centric" appearance Google Local and MSN's Virtual Earth now share a very similar interface.
Earlier this summer Yahoo! launched a new and improved version of its local product, which also gives prominence to maps. Yahoo! Local has a broader range of content than either MSN or Google at this point.
What about ads on the new Google Local? The answer is: yes. They'll be served in the left column above and below the organic results/listings. But what about monetization of the map itself? Google declined to comment.
I think one of the true innovations of Google Local (beyond the aesthetics of the map) was the "one box" search (as opposed to category/name and location boxes) — though it doesn't always recognize location. However, it allows for a less structured, broader range of searches than users would typically consider in the familiar "two box" environment (where they're prompted to do White and Yellow Pages-style searches). Google is probably a bit ahead of local search users in the one-box approach. But it does permit this sort of non-traditional local search.
Taylor said that as a something of a concession (my words) to the existing culture of local search, in which the two-box model predominates, Google would offer both approaches. The two-box search is available under the "find businesses" link beside the main search field.
No facile "who will win" predictions from me. Like the broader search market, local will continue to be an area of rapid development and innovation among all the players in the coming six to 12 months. All this innovation is good for users and makes for better and better products.
I just hope there aren't any more announcements this week — I pray to the PR gods . . .