Google Launches Smart Search for Places

Google has launched Place Search, a new feature which produces results based solely around locations, in a bid to make its search offering more ‘local’.

From today onwards, Google users can search for an activity in a certain place, or a type of restaurant, for example Chinese in London and the list of results will show all the places in that location which match the search criterion in a new clustered fashion.

Specifically, Google knows 50 million places, and when you search for say “restaraunts new york,” it now shows you a new kind of search result that replaces a list of links with a list of mini-pages for museums in the Big Apple with a map on the right. Each mini-page has links to reviews around the web on sites like Citisearch and Yelp, as well as the address and phone number. The mini-profile also has a photo and a algorithmically chosen snippet from a typical review.

Google will automatically choose the so-called Place search, rather than a general web search, if it thinks your query is about a place — something Place Search product manager Jackie Bavaro says accounts for about 20 percent of Google searches.

More ambiguous queries such as “soccer field” will use the main search, since the user could be trying to learn the official FIFA regulations for a soccer field, not find one to scrimmage on. But Place Search remains an option for all searches, joining the left navigation on Google’s search results, alongside Images, Shopping, News and Video.

“We are now organizing the world’s information around places,” Bavaro said. “Each place is really its own results page, dynamically connecting web pages.”

The feature will be slowly rolled out to users around the world starting Wednesday. For now, Place Search is for the desktop only, but a mobile version is in development and should be available soon — a no-brainer, since searching to learn about or find a place is one of the most common searches on mobile devices.

The feature is yet another step by the net’s major search engines to use the interface to improve search, rather than tweaking the ranking algorithms or building a bigger index. Bing and Yahoo are already making moves to build pages for “entities.” See, for instance, what Yahoo does for musical artists and Bing creates for entities such as colleges.

Google Place Search does not rely on human editors to curate pages (neither do Yahoo and Bing’s), and instead relies on algorithms to determine what pages on the net are about a given place. One can expect that Google and others will keep building on this idea, so more and more of your searches about things — whether that be the San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum or the Samsung Galaxy S or Osgood-Schlatters disease — will be mini-pages curated by an algorithm of information from the web. [Google Blog via Wired and Finansial Post]

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