- Last week, Google introduced a handful of new features, including a new community feed that shows content shared by others about businesses in your area.
- Tech columnist Jason Aten argues this is a way for Google Maps to compete with Facebook and ultimately become the app users use both to figure out where to go and how to get there.
- Facebook's feed tends to be a great place to find recommendations for restaurants and other places to visit.
- By incorporating the same kind of feed into Google Maps, Aten says, the tech giant is making maps a social app as much as a search experience.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Google Maps has long been the default app for finding directions to just about anywhere. Even on the iPhone, where Apple has worked hard to make its own version of Maps better over the last few years, Google's app remains the most popular option with over one billion users.
Last week, Google introduced a handful of new features, one of which I think stands out as offering a dramatic change. Google's new community feed is similar to your Facebook feed in that it shows you a feed of information and content shared by others about businesses in your area.
Now when you open the app you'll see the community feed as a part of the Explore tab, where you'll find updates, reviews, photos, and highlights for whatever area you're searching for on Google Maps. You can follow people and businesses to see their updates, or see new reviews for businesses you follow in your feed.
At first, it might seem strange that Google would want to compete directly with Facebook with a social feature like community feed. Except, and this is important, Google already competes directly with Facebook over where you go to find local businesses through the latter's business pages and recommendations.
When you think about it, using a map is, at its most fundamental level, a search experience.
Every time you use one, you're searching for something. Usually it's a place you'd like to visit, or a suggestion for something to do or somewhere to eat.
Before we carried maps around in our pocket, that process was about as analog as it gets. It's hard to remember how revolutionary Google Maps was when Steve Jobs announced that it would be available on the original iPhone back in 2007.
Previously, you'd look up a location manually and then print out directions to follow. MapQuest changed the process by making it easier to get the directions, but it was Google Maps that transformed the way we use search within a map — which makes sense, considering it's, well, Google.
At the same time, maps (the thing, not the app) are, by their very nature, social.
Whether a map is an interactive app or simply lines and color printed on a piece of paper, you use them because you want to find a place and go there. Presumably that's because there's something at that destination you value. There's some experience you expect to have when you arrive.
The decisions we make about how we use a map aren't just based on proximity to our location — they're based on the experiences of others. That's a social act.
Choosing your destination is usually based on some combination of recommendations from people you trust and proximity to wherever you are. You select a restaurant because you heard it was incredible. You pick a location for a vacation because someone you know went before you and told you how much fun they had.
Of course, in most cases, all of that happens before you ever start trying to figure out how to get there. First, you figure out where to go. If you didn't already have something in mind, you might have asked your friends for recommendations — probably on Facebook.
That's why this matters so much to Google. Every time you ask your friends for recommendations on Facebook, the social media giant is the platform that collects the data and shows you content it thinks is relevant to your trip.
For example, when someone provides you with a recommendation, Facebook automatically highlights the Page or website for the business, and even shows it on, of all things, a map.
Google doesn't want you using Facebook for that — it wants to be the default place you go to find everything, including a recommendation for the best local BBQ place or the most fun thing to do with your kids on a weekend getaway. Facebook and Google have the exact same goal: to keep you using their platform as long as possible.
The longer you use Google Maps, the more opportunities to show you an ad for a local company that wants your business. The same is true for Facebook. If you think about it, Facebook's recommendation feature is all about owning the entire user experience. You can ask a question, get an answer, and find directions, all within Facebook. That's supposed to be Google's gig.
Google has allowed users to leave reviews for a while now, but in order for a user to find that information, they had to specifically search for a business or location. In fact, Google's reviews are one of the most important social validation features for most users. If you're thinking of visiting somewhere you've never been, not only does Google Maps tell you how to get there, but it's a powerful place for people to share their experience through a review.
It might be a meal in a restaurant, a meeting across town, a play in a theater, or shopping in a store on Chicago's Magnificent Mile — in every one of those cases, it's likely that you'll have thoughts and feelings about those experiences. Google Maps has made it possible for a while to share those thoughts and feelings in the form of recommendations and reviews. Now, however, it's making it easier to surface information about the experiences of other people.
Google wants to change maps from the thing you use to get to where you're going to the place you go to decide where to go in the first place.
Maybe the best way to think about it is to imagine a new restaurant opened in your area. Several of your friends visited and had a great experience. One or two of them might have posted about it on Facebook or shared a photo on Instagram. They also might have left a review on Google.
In the past, there was a pretty good chance you'd see the Facebook post and possibly decide that you'd like to visit as well (imagining for a moment that we're not in a world where no one is visiting restaurants). Now, however, you might see it in the Explore tab of Google Maps.
Or, you might visit a new area (again, in a world where we're traveling regularly again) and be looking for something to do. Instead of asking on Facebook, if I'm visiting a new place I'm probably already using Maps, and the entire experience is already organized by my location.
It's true that you can search Facebook for, say, "restaurants near me," but Facebook isn't the app you would expect to be looking for dinner. It's also not especially intuitive to use Facebook's search that way.
Ultimately, community feed is Google's way of owning the entire user experience. Facebook definitely has a head start with its recommendation features, but even if your friends give you a recommendation on Facebook, you're still using Google Maps to get there. Google's just hoping you'll cut out the Facebook part altogether.
Get the latest Google stock price here.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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