We already know Google wants to be everything for everyone in search. Now they're extending that goal into the real world, sticking physical tags on the windows of actual businesses from its online Favorite Places catalog. Should Foursquare be worried about Google's intrusion?
Google made the announcement yesterday, but that bit got lost in the swarm of news surrounding other new features. Nevertheless, it's novel stuff: Google has identified the "100,000 local businesses in the U.S. that have been the most sought-out and researched on Google.com and Google Maps" and has labeled them the "Favorite Places on Google." They're located in some 9,000 towns across all 50 states...and to identify them, you actually have to go to the shop.
How un-Google. What with Earth, Maps and Street View, Google's more about digitally visiting places, or so one would've thought. The physical windows do, however, contain a sprinkle of Google magic: A QR code that, when scanned with a smartphone running the right app, will take you to a Google page containing the business details and offer coupons and even reviews.
It's a big move for Quick Response codes (QR), which are ubiquitous in Japan and a growing phenomenon elsewhere in the World, though scarce in the U.S. (they're 2-D information-rich barcodes, like the one on the left.) And it's a big move for Google—it'll earn a tiny bit of PR from the window stickers and curious on-lookers, and it'll grab some advertising dollars for people who actually make use of the service. If you think about it, it's also a tiny move in the direction of augmented reality for Google—though of the physical tagging sort, rather than virtual data tags in an AR heads-up display.
And that might make Foursquare's owners a little nervous: When a mega-giant like Google starts playing in your local business AR-esque game, you should probably start worrying about how it'll affect your future. Fortunately for Foursquare, it's service is already evolving. It's a game and it's fun. Google's system may be useful, but like many Google ventures it's dry-boiled and a little joyless. You'll have to be a smartphone user to use Favorite Places, and if you're that type of person you'll be more inclined towards the higher-tech and more dynamic geotagged local-data info offered by Foursquare or Layar in their AR apps. No one will be bothered by Google's kooky half-high-tech, half-low-tech efforts in this market for quite some time.