Early Wednesday morning, Google announced a sweeping new project, a new "Local" tab in Google+. The project spent more than a year in development.
Born of the company's 2011 purchase of restaurant review survey publisher Zagat, "Local" will integrate reviews of neighborhood places with various Google tools, like maps and search. It will also provide social opportunities with members of Google+ circles, who'll be able to submit their own reviews and see which restaurants their friends are visiting. It will have mobile capability, as well.
More than 35,000 reviews are currently in the system with additional ones coming, and the platform will be available in 60 languages across more than 100 countries. The restaurant entries are scored on Zagat's famous 30-point system, which takes into account different considerations like decor, service and cost rather than just one for food.
Although some aspects of "Local" are reminiscent of other social sites -- Yelp, for example -- Tim Zagat told The Huffington Post that it's the other way around. Yelp was inspired by Zagat, he said.
"A lot of people have copied us over the years, but we think nobody has done it the way we've done it," Tim explained. And unlike Yelp, he continued, Zagat has and will continue to have editorial oversight. "I think we've always stood for quality, accuracy, being bias free...editing the content that comes in from surveyors."
In contrast to Yelp, Tim said that Zagat has never incited controversy over bad reviews from disgruntled diners. "Over 30 years, that has virtually never happened," he stressed. "If you ask the chefs, they like what we do, because they feel it's been honest and accurate."
Zagat will continue to publish a print edition, but all online content that was previously limited to paying members will now be free.
Google representatives also made clear that the tool differs from platforms like Facebook and Twitter because of "Local"'s integration with other Google tools. Still, they expressed an interest in companies and restaurants maintaining profiles on "Local" in a manner quite similar to the aforementioned sites.
"Local" will likely inflame debate about Google's issues with antitrust laws, which began cropping up last year. Federal authorities have leveled accusations against the company that stem from its powerful search engine, which they say is used to steer traffic toward Google's new sites, like "Local." Google has denied any wrongdoing.
Watch the slideshow and promo video below for a better sense of what to expect.