Friday, September 09, 2011

Google Buys Zagat

Yesterday it was announced that Google was buying Zagat, which struck me as interesting since Zagat and its maroon-covered guidebooks seem like such an orphan in these days--stuck somewhere between the old fashioned printed expert guidebooks like Michelin's and the new freewheeling social opinion sites like Yelp.

It vaguely occurred to me that Zagat probably has a website, but if I had ever visited it before I don't remember doing so.  And when I navigated over the to check it out, I can see why I never used it before.

First, it's a pay site that lets you get a basic listing of restaurants but not see any ratings without buying a subscription, which seems doomed in this day of free sites.  Second, the "Related Buzz" column on the right hand side (which showed when I searched for restaurants in "Charleston SC") has an old story from back in March  about Tony Bourdain and Kat Kinsman having a slap flight over food writers (not really "buzz" if it's six years old, guys) that seems in no way related to the search.

Things are no more relevant if you, for example, search for "pizza" in "Atlanta".  "Buzz" from May about a pizza restaurant opening in Baltimore is not useful to someone looking to each pizza in Atlanta, Georgia.  Maybe a little search expertise will help . . .

Zagat's pay-wall model had another interesting downside: it made it harder for people to find content on the site, since it would show up very high on Google searches. (That'll probably change soon . . .)

I'm sure Google will manage to take the reader-generated content and put it to some sort of good use, but the deal is interesting for other reasons.  Apparently, the New York Times story reveals, the Zagats courted Google pretty aggressively and not the other way around.

My favorite line from the article, quoting an analyst: "It's a little bit of a consolation prize." Two years ago Google made a failed half-billion dollar bid to acquire Yelp, the top online restaurant review site.

It should get interesting over the next few months . . .

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