Google Buys Zagat. What's Next (Besides Mind Control, Obviously)?

The Google-chompers gobbled up Zagat yesterday, as reported by the New York Times, the LA Times, and then everyone else. The acquisition gives the internet mogul access to a sizable restaurant database full of addresses and reviews that's 29 years in the making, and positions the company to compete directly in the local advertising market against websites like Yelp, City Search, Urban Spoon, and web sites like dallasobserver.com. In 2009, Google tried to buy Yelp, but the deal never took.

Local blogs Eater and Side Dish reported on the acquisition yesterday, the latter offering concerns that Google could maintain Zagat's esteemed code of ethics for conducting reviews. The problem is, Tim and Nina Zagat didn't care about the ethics of the review. While many articles about the acquisition tout Zagat's trusted reviews, their books simply compiled surveys filled out by nearly anyone. The system was as simple as Yelp but on paper, and restaurants were the ones handing out the forms. Local critic Leslie Brenner admitted to using Zagat's maroon paperback as nothing more than an address book.

Zagat has been under the gun for some time. The Washington City Paper published an article two years ago that picked apart the guide's errors line by line. The highlights? Content that didn't change for the better part of a decade despite a blossoming restaurant scene, and a number-one rating for a sushi restaurant that nobody in DC had ever heard of. Zagat has proven just as easy to game as modern internet-based review compilers.

Yelp's received heat for disappearing reviews removed under cloudy policies, and preferred business placement that can be purchased by restaurateurs. It's pretty easy to see how Google could leverage their geospatial data, search, and aggregation capabilities with Zagat's trusted reviews, with the end result of handing Yelp its ass. But they'll also contribute to the growing and overwhelming information glut.

Google's been criticized in the past over privacy concerns surrounding its Buzz and Plus features. I'm curious to see how all the data that's sitting in your email account, combined with geo-tracking your smartphone, will be used to offer tailored dining choices and, eventually, to gain complete control of your mind.

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