Google’s plan to let local merchants offer their coupons, for free, via Google’s map interface is exciting news. It’s a step toward fixing one of the most glaring deficiencies of the web to date: online sites do a terrible job of making content geographically relevant.
Case in point: I love Craigslist. It provides apartment rental listings that you just can’t find anywhere else. I found there of my last four apartments via Craigslist. And I love Google Maps, with its snazzy, AJAX-powered interface. But it took a third-party to mash up, the two services into what I really want: a map of apartments for rent laid out on a map, so I can see at a glance which ones are in the neighborhood I want. Unfortunately, that site doesn’t include St. Louis, so it’s not useful to me. Moreover, if Craigslist or Google implemented it themselves, they could doubtless add a lot of additional functionality that a third party can’t provide.
I’ve got the same issue with restaurants: There are a number of sites that provide restaurant reviews, and some of them even break them down by city region. But no one gives me an easy way to zoom into a map and view all the restaurants on a particular city block. I can search for “restaurant” in Google Local and get a reasonable list of restaurants near where I work. But I can’t easily narrow the search down by cuisine, or by price range, to get a list of restaurants with desired characteristics. I don’t think it’s finding all the restaurants, and it annoyingly only shows me 10 restaurants at a time. (I assume this is because the interface grinds to a halt if the map has too many pins on it)
A good way to fix this is by forging more direct relationships with the actual retailers. 20 years ago, having your name in the yellow pages was an indispensable way for your customers to find you. Today, having a pin on Google Local when someone searches for your business category ought to be considered equally indispensable. Hopefully, Google will continue to give content creators more and easier ways to link their information to geographical locations, allowing us to search our neighborhoods as powerfully as we can search the web as a whole.