Google is testing out a service that incorporates live chat with businesses right into search results, via a new link that shows whether a business is currently available, and immediately launches a chat via Google Hangouts (on either desktop or mobile) if they are. The service resembles Path Talk’s direct messaging platform with local businesses, but incorporates its service right into the business listing search result card it shows on Google.com, which also shows you details including price level, address, map location, phone number, opening hours, ratings and reviews.
We’ve confirmed via a Google spokesperson that this is indeed an experimental feature the company is testing, which was originally spotted by Matt Gibstein who shared screens on Twitter earlier today. The new experimental chat feature offers a direct text-based line of communication, in this case with a restaurant, so that you could theoretically ask if it’s currently busy, if there’s a reservation available, or menu-specific queries, for example, and receive an answer in real-time. This is the premise behind the aforementioned Path Talk, which was a service Path added to its dedicated messenger to help separate its offering from the sea of mobile messaging apps currently available.
Path Talk’s launch last September stemmed from its acquisition of business text message service TalkTo, and offers an overview of local businesses using the service displayed on a map screen, allowing users to see a list, including online status information, so they know which businesses they can talk to currently. The free service eliminates the need for a phone call for activities like checking for in-stock inventory, making an appointment or making reservations.
Google’s test service appears to offer the same conveniences, including an estimated time for response, but using listings on Google’s own extensive existing index of places. Of course, Google launching its own version of Path Talk would be bad news for the smaller company, especially if Google made this available via things like Google Maps in addition to directly in search results. It’s still very early at this stage, however, and there’s no guarantee it’ll ever become a full-fledged offering with general availability. Still, with messaging of increasing importance to businesses everywhere, it’s a smart area for the search giant to explore.