Google ruins Places

Google doesn’t get social. They really, really don’t get it. I’ve come to realize this because of the latest update to Google Places.

I’ve been a fairly frequent user of Google Places since it was launched. It used to be great—tap restaurants, get a list of restaurants nearby. Select one, get directions, menus, opening hours. Once there, enter a quick review and rate the place. No more.

Today I went to find a restaurant for an impromptu gathering and the Places icon had entirely disappeared from my phone. After flailing around the menu for a while, I noticed an icon that looked like Places, but was labeled Local. Tapping it brought up Google Maps, in a mode that looked somewhat like Places.

The moving and renaming of the app wasn’t the big problem, though. The big problem came after lunch, when I went to post a quick rating of the restaurant we had chosen.

“With Google+ Local, all your reviews and photos are visible to everyone on the web”, Maps informed me. Yes, because Google is desperate to push Google+, the entire Places application has been subsumed into Google+. Since I’m one of the minority who actually use Google+, you might think I’d welcome this. But you’d be wrong, because the app went on to say:

Your name [full name here] will be visible with your reviews and photos to…

  • Anyone who views your profile on Google+
  • Anyone who searches for places, if they’ve added you to their Google+ circles
  • Anyone who views places you’ve reviewed

The first two, I have no problem with. But that last one, demanding that anyone who posts a review does so under their full name (and attached to their profile photo), is stupidly wrong.

There’s a reason why restaurant critics often don’t put their full name and photo at the top of their review columns. If you want honest reviews, then allowing pseudonyms is an important tool.

Yes, some sites (like Yelp) have allegedly had problems with unscrupulous business owners anonymously trashing other businesses; but demanding full names won’t stop that. The unscrupulous will simply generate a WASPonym account and use that to post trashing reviews.

What Google’s full name policy will stop is honest but somewhat negative reviews from actual customers who value their privacy.

Zagat understood this. The Zagat guides removed identity information when compiling their reviews. But then Google bought Zagat, and now you can see historical Zagat reviews, but you can’t submit a review unless you consent to having your full name splashed all over the restaurant’s reviews page. You can’t even review a place just for friends. Historical anonymous and pseudonymous reviews have been republished under the name “A Google User”, but someone high up has clearly dictated that pseudonyms and anonymity will no longer be permitted. I’m guessing Vic Gundotra, the VP responsible for setting Google+ name policy.

Last year we were told Google had learned from its mistakes, but I’m really not seeing any evidence of that. It seems as though Google is going to keep strongarming people into publishing their full names all over the Internet, at least as long as Gundotra is in charge.

I’m getting tired of it all. I’m thinking of giving up on Google+. I’m definitely looking for an alternative for restaurant info. What are other people using?