Digital Insights

Can Facebook’s New Places Directory Replace Google+ Business Pages?

Published: November 28, 2014

Nineteenth century British philanthropist and educational writer William Edward Hickson is credited with popularizing the proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.” Facebook has apparently taken Mr. Hickson’s advice to heart by quietly introducing a revamped version of its Places mobile app feature, which was abruptly dropped in the summer of 2011. The new and improved Places Directory was apparently intended to offer Facebook users a new local search option, although its present functionality could probably be described more accurately as “guided browsing.”

How Facebook’s New Places Directory Works

  • The directory draws on a compilation of data including Graph Search, local business reviews, and the Pages Location API to generate results designed to rival other popular local search and review sites such as Google+ Business Pages and Yelp.
  • Users can initiate a Places Directory search either by city name or other place name.
  • After a specific city location has been selected, users can drill down their search by choosing from such categories as Hotels, Restaurants, Cafes, Bars, Arts & Entertainment, and Attractions.
  • Once a category has been chosen, results are returned ranked in order of rating and by the network affinity to the individual user.
  • Additional social tools are available which enable users to further refine and filter results.
  • Once users drill down to a specific business, the individual business Page is displayed, which includes a reviews tab as well as the businesses’ star rating and user comments.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Places Directory is not presently available for mobile device users. A mobile version is certain to roll out in the coming months because the most obvious target user group for the directory is undoubtedly the mobile market.

In a move perhaps intended to complement the new Places Directory feature, Facebook has revised the look of its local business Pages to feature reviews in a more prominent position.

What Happened to the Old Places App?
The original Places app disappeared more than three years ago amidst an outcry over privacy concerns, although Facebook adamantly denies that privacy was the real issue. According to Facebook, the mobile Places app was intended to offer users a better way to keep their friends updated, including the ability to publish the user’s exact location. User feedback that cited location as being only a small part of an update was the real reason for dropping Places, Facebook announced.

From Facebook’s point of view, the larger issue was one of providing users with a better ability to control what and with whom their profile information was shared.

Is Facebook’s New Places Directory a Credible Threat to Google+ Business Pages?
The biggest downside to Facebook’s directory is its lack of breadth. The Places Directory covers only a handful of verticals in the dining and entertainment niche compared to Google’s presence across the entire small business community. Another problem for Facebook is a lack of geographic penetration – the directory is limited to coverage of the largest metropolitan areas, with absolutely nothing available for searches focused on small to medium-sized towns.

In short, Google executives and shareholders have little reason to lose sleep over Facebook’s new local search offering – the Places Directory is unlikely to pose a credible threat to anyone anytime soon.