Google Hotel Finder Experiment

Last week amidst the noise of changes in the Place’s layout, Google noted  that  they would be “Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms“. While Google doesn’t talk much about their thinking or the future, when they do, I have learned that you can take them at their word. They have in fact quickly started this process of projecting data from within Places more broadly, resulting in its higher visibility and an increased liklihood of being seen. They are putting more photos from Places into the branded One Box in the main search results and have started showing coupons from Places in their mobile Shopper app (OMG will coupons finally make their Phoenix like  re-appearance after 4 moribund years?) .

The Google Hotel Finder experiment is yet another example that they are taking buried information from Places and Maps and experimenting with making it more visible. In the process they are making search results more engaging and interactive, demonstrating their move from being strictly a search results provider to using search to generate useful content that will attract and retain users. More users, a longer time on the site and a fresh way of looking at previously buried content will obviously also provide additional ways to sell more ads.

Rather than the standard Google approach of the single search box and their educated guess as to what searchers want, the Hotel Finder interface, in very un-Google like fashion, provides a more faceted approach to finding exactly the information that a user is looking for. The choices allow for a great deal of granularity of pricing, relative pricing and quality.

If the broad, single field geo search does not return the appropriate geography, the user can drill into the map and literally outline the appropriate neighborhoods themselves via interactive, draggable boundary lines. The map view provides a heat mapped representation of the most popular areas.

The interface allows a user to build repeated queries with slightly different parameters and save the results into a “short list” of choices. Thus if you wanted to compare hotels in two or three totally distinct non-adjacent neighborhoods, say the Upper West Side, Tribecca and Park Slope, a user  could create a custom view of hotels from which to choose and then share the view via URL with another.

More details about a given hotel, a Places view if you will, with a very attractive layout can be seen by clicking on the hotel of choice. The user is presented with an array of photos, review summaries and the owner description. It seems to reflect a new, thoughtful design sensibility on the part of Google.

Of course, it is not just a view of content but offers the option of booking the hotel via their still secretive hotel booking tool. All in all it is in impressive experiment with a subtle transactional nature. It is both more polished and definitely better looking than most Google experiments. It is very slick and offers an interface that could be easily adapted to restaurants, bars, florists and hair salons (to name a few) and of course to mobile.

If this experiment is any indication, the future of search is local search and it is an interesting one. With the acquisition of ITA and Google’s obvious and long standing desire to move into the hotel booking market, this experiment shows how Google is thinking about both the data and the market. Many have explained the recent changes as a reactive response to anti-trust complaints. It could equally be explained as a proactive measure that would allow Google to be in a more competitive position going forward as they compete more directly against the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp.

The Google Hotel Finder experiment is not just search as we have come to know it but search as interactive content that has the ability to achieve serendipity in both interaction and results. And of course in a way that makes the sale.

Google Places is Integrating some of the great information

With the rollout of the changes on the Places page and display of Local Universal results on the main search results page Google noted that going forward that they would be “Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms“.

We had a discussion the other day postulating as to what Google Places and Maps data was “buried” and would surface. Photos, Offers/Coupon offers, videos were a common suggestions in the thread.

It seems that Google has already started down the path of more widely disseminating Offers (as in free Places Coupons as opposed to daily deals) with their recently updated Shopper App on the iPhone (thanks to Jim Gianoglio of ImpactQ for the tip). The noted changes clearly focus on Offers:

Nearby offers giving users great deals around them

Map view for nearby offers

Redemption of Google Offers from your phone

Although the Shopper app is probably makes these free coupons only slightly more visible than they are now it is a step…

It hadn’t occurred to me that another one of the great resources hidden in Maps is the massive amounts of Streetview data but it obviously had to Google. Regular reader Plamen sent along this screen shot of Google testing the integration of Streetview into a Local Onebox in the main search results:

As Google noted in their post:

Beyond today’s transition, our long-term vision for local search includes:

  • Bringing you more personalized results when you search for local places — because we understand that information from the people you know is most meaningful;
  • Integrating some of the great information that’s been buried on Place pages into your web search experience across all Google platforms;
  • Giving you more ways to rate, discover and share places you love faster and easier than ever, wherever you are, and on whichever device you choose.

There have been lots of changes in the nearly two years since Place pages were introduced, and because there’s always more room for improvement, you can expect more changes to come.

Another obvious conclusion from their comments is that they are going to aggressively pursue the idea of ratings as opposed to long form reviews. Since Hotpot, this is a differentiation strategy that Google has pursued in their battle with Yelp. Whether it is enough for them to “win” is unclear but it has clearly put them back in a game that they were sorely losing. I wonder how they will make ratings easier than they currently are.

Google Shopper 1.3 adds search filters and featured lists

When we launched Google Shopper in February, I never expected that my 20% project would quickly become one of Google’s most popular Android applications. With over 2.5 million downloads in just 9 months, many Android users are using Shopper to help them shop on the go.

Today, we’re excited to announce the next version of Shopper. In addition to existing, popular features like local availability, fast barcode scanning and voice search, version 1.3 includes new search filters like “price” and “brand” to help users refine their searches to find the perfect product.

For example, if you’re looking for a new Blu-Ray player and you want to match it to your existing Denon receiver, you can filter by price and brand:

In addition, version 1.3 includes new “featured lists” – lists of products to help you shop during the holidays. When you have a spare moment, you can browse through suggested gifts and then click through to find the best place to buy them.

To get Shopper, Android users can go to Android Market for the free download. If you’re an iPhone user, you can use Mobile Product Search ( from an iPhone or Android device) to get many of the same great features.

Posted by Daniel Switkin, Senior Software Engineer, Google Shopper