Local Business Center, the service that local businesses use to hand a virtual shingle from within Google Maps, is being renamed Google Places. Along with the name change, Google's added a heap of new features to help firms connect with potential customers. As well as simplifying the way businesses connect with Place Pages and Google Goggles, the relaunch will sew up even more advertising dollars—and, somewhat bizarrely, offer businesses the chance of a free photo shoot with a photographer. However, once you think about just why Google is rolling out the idea, it starts to make a little more sense.
Don't expect Terry Richardson or Mario Testino, but if you want the interiors of your business shot for Place Pages, then this is where you apply. As well as being, perhaps, a further step for Google into the world of 3-D, the offer of free photo-love for the inside of business premises could very well be Google's first step into people's homes.
Last month, German TV did a masterly mick-take of what they dubbed "Home View," persuading gullible householders that having a stranger walk inside their home and take pictures of every aspect was just part and parcel of normal modern life. All this on the day that 10 nations—Germany included—have taken Google to task over privacy issues in an open letter.
Other changes will allow businesses such as plumbing firms or piano tuners to now show their geographic reach to potential clients on their own page. (They will also be able to make their home addresses private, which is handy for when their geographic reach includes disgruntled customers.) The existing $25-a-month Tags feature has been extended to Austin, Atlanta, and Washington, with Chicago, San Diego, Seattle, Boulder, and San Francisco is coming soon.
Lastly, QR codes will be available to download from the dashboard of Google Places, so that customers can get straight to the mobile version of a Place Page for any business. Google is also giving its Favorite Places program a second airing, which looks a little bit like Google's got its eye on what is traditionally Yelp territory. Given the problems that the crowd-sourced reviews site is getting, however, Google's timing is more than auspicious.