The travel space has long been in search of a winner in the local discovery space, especially as the smartphone fuels more local and contextual interest.
Apps like Foursquare are evolving to focus more exclusively on this local discovery piece, even going so far as rebranding and redefining the company's purpose to focus on local discovery and social travel.
Gogobot, TripAvisor, Yelp, and Facebook are all also competing to deliver the best, most personalized recommendations as a mobile user wanders the world. Gogobot delivers social recommendations, TripAdvisor pulls in social connections to fuel reviews, Yelp offers restaurants nearby, and Facebook offers a "Nearby" feature for businesses and friends on the platform.
So what about Google?
Google+ hasn't continued its initial strong growth trajectory and hasn't developed as a mobile-first application to take advantage of proximity awareness. Google Maps, however, has continued to be a popular product primarily used on a smartphone on the move. This means that the user is already consulting the app for destination information, and yet the app doesn't have a clear means of exploring what's nearby. Users can pinch and zoom to find points of interest, but they are not offered a discrete place to learn about nearby offerings.
This will soon change, as Google Maps announced an "Explore" feature this week that will bring together information about nearby places in a browsable fashion.
The idea is that the interface matters. Providing a clear place to navigate nearby will encourage more users to stay in the app for local discovery. Of course, this also offers a clear path to further monetization of local businesses as proximity is valuable when it comes to snagging a customer close to purchase.
The new feature, which has not been rolled out yet, will pull in Google reviews, photos and other information in a format that makes sense for last-minute browsing. Categories like "Quick bites," "Coffee," and "Breakfast spots" will sort the information according to needs.
From the blog post announcing the evolving feature set:
Now, whenever you want to discover places in your area, simply tap the new Explore button at the bottom right corner of your map to get a quick look at what’s nearby (where available). With Explore as your guide, you’ll see different places and activities that adapt to each area and moment throughout your day. This also works when you’re browsing other neighborhoods and cities on the map so you can plan your day’s outing or daydream about your next vacation.
The intelligent interface will also take other factors into account, like the weather, so that the suggestions are appropriate for the current context.
The experience will also improve over time, as the algorithm begins to learn which recommendations were actually acted upon, delivering a more relevant recommendation engine based on real, rather than implied, actions.
The feature will allow user input to determine how to define "nearby." For some, this might mean a five minute walk and for others it could be a twenty minute drive. And of course, this time and radius will depend greatly on the current situation of the user - a very handy feature for both locals and vacationers.
Transit directions and other information will also be seamlessly included, making this a formidable competitor in the local discovery space as far as overall utility.
The update will first be available exclusively on Android, and a release date has not been officially set.