Google Looks To One-Up Facebook With Google+ Local: A More Social Google Places, With A Twist Of Zagat

Google+, with 100 million active users, still has a long way to go before being anywhere near social network rival Facebook’s nearly one-billion subscribers. But it has been working hard to leverage its substantial audiences in other areas to do just that. And today saw the latest advance in that area, with the double news that it is launching Google+ Local, and sunsetting Google Places, its older, less social version of local listings and local search.

Now, if you go to the web page for Google Places, you get two options: a link through to Google+ Local, or if you are a business, an option to claim your spot in Google’s directory — soon to be converted into its own Google + page, the company says. The change has been swift: Search Engine Land reports that as of this morning, some 80 million Google Places pages were converted to Google+ Local pages.

(Hey- does that mean that Google+ can now say it has 180 million active users?)

The service will now come with two enhancements: first, Google+ contacts that contribute recommendations and opinions on places in the directory will now show up when we search for those places.

And second, to beef that up, Google is also integrating scores and recommendations from Zagat, the restaurant guide company it bought in September 2011 for $151 million. This looks to be the first major sign of how Google has integrated Zagat’s extensive data since the acquisition.

If you are a fan of Zagat’s approach to restaurant reviews, you’ll be right at home here. Google says that from now on, all places will be scored using the 30-point scale used by Zagat that covers the areas of food, decor and service. However, Google also says that recommendations and reviews from your contacts will remain “front and center.” Update: This post from Eater makes a fairly damning observation: there is some inaccurate data among that Zagat content.

The launch of Google+ Local also marks further steps in Google to bring its products together into a single platform: included will also be integration with search, maps and mobile access, and Local will also come up as a new tab on Google+ — so users won’t be lured away to use any of the dozens of other social/local/mobile search services and apps out there already.

Will all this be enough to bring in the crowds? What Google still lacks in Google+ is a way of getting different businesses’ networks to interact with each other — meaning, Facebook may have its own Facebook Places, but it also has a range of apps from others, like Gogobot and more, that enhance that experience. Google is still largely relying on its own data to get the job done. That could make the experience more cohesive, or (the problem Google+ has been having up to now) a little too quiet.

But don’t make a judgment just yet: Avni Shah, the director of product management who penned a blog post on the changes today, notes that “Today is just the first step, and you’ll see more updates in the coming months.” As for what that might be, one guess is to look at what other social networks are doing to get people engaged: virtual currencies that can redeemed for actual goods (like discounts at venues); daily deals; and local alerts are all features I wouldn’t be surprised to see pop up here soon, if Google is doing its homework.