Another day, another new product from Google (GOOG), the sprawling technology giant that has been on a tear lately. Now comes "Near Me Now," a service that makes it fast and easy to learn about your immediate vicinity with a much simpler interface than other local search applications use. It launched last week on the mobile version of Google.com. When an Apple (AAPL) iPhone or Android phone lets Google.com grab its user's exact location via these phones' GPS capabilities, Google adds a "Near Me Now" button to its Web search interface, automatically making it very easy to find local information.%%DynaPub-Enhancement class="enhancement contentType-HTML Content fragmentId-1 payloadId-61603 alignment-right size-small"%%How is this different than Google Local? For one thing, it clearly elevates Google's local strategy by kicking local search up a level to a button on the home search interface for mobile devices. In Google's world, a one-level transition is a big deal.
Second, the interface is designed to minimize pecking at a mobile device keyboard. For example, when a user hits Near Me Now, a new menu appears allowing him to choose from restaurants, coffe shops, bars and ATMs. One finger click opens up the next level, which shows links to particular establishments.
A Minimum of Keyboard Tapping
Contrast this to typing in a full name of a restaurant or a place name, or having to tap in a type of cuisine, and it's clear that Google is counting finger taps and aiming, as always, to minimize the steps needed to get the info you want. This is something Google has recently identified as a key initiative, namely, making voice data input or other simplified forms of query and information entry a priority on mobile devices. The logic is sound. I personally find that trying to peck away at mobile keyboards remains a real chokepoint and an inconvenience.
Who should worry about this new product? Yelp, UrbanSpoon, CitySearch and many other purveyors of local information that have search interfaces that are sorely lacking compared to the Near Me Now. Team this with Google's super-simple AdWords ad-placement technology, and Google may finally have the makings of a real revenue play for local ads. Of course, the same problem with enticing small merchants and restaurants to buy ads on Google remains. Small-business owners are notoriously technophobic.
But Google's own rivals are rapidly seeding the market for a major local Google play. Yelp's salesforce is making the rounds and encouraging local merchants to buy ads. Other director providers are linking up with local sales operators to get feet on the street for local ad sales. And, ultimately, this may be a case of Google sticking with it long enough for the market to catch up with its technology.
Google may even get some inadvertent help from California, where legislators are considering a law that could force print phone directory companies to receive explicit opt-in requests for the dead tree phonebooks from residents. Making this opt-in could effectively kill the already staggering director industry and, conversely, chase more local merchants online. The upshot? Near Me Now is a clever and well-timed release from Google that could have a huge impact on online local ad sales. The next question is: What will Google release next week?
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