Google’s Embracing of People

It’s been almost two weeks since Google acquired Zagat, creator of those little burgundy guides to local restaurants, rated by actual customers. Since then, there’s been no end to the speculation regarding the acquisition: a good deal, a harebrained deal, a multi-faceted deal. Google seems pretty excited about it, as do the Zagats.

Who knows what Google has planned for Zagat. Maybe it becomes part of Google Places. Or Google+. Or the content gets folded in to the myriad of ways that Google serves up information for people. But what struck me about the Zagat’s acquisition (along with the relatively recent launch of Google+) is a seemingly growing appreciation on the part of Google that there is more information than can be assimilated into their algorithm – information that is created, shared and appreciated by humans, not machines.

To me, Google has always been the ultimate data wonk’s brand – the ‘Spock’ of the internet, relying on cool calculating logic to know what you want when you ask…and maybe even before. In fact, Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, once claimed that Google could “know what you’re thinking about”. Which is impressive, cuz I’m not sure I can even make that claim for the majority of my waking hours.

But cool calculating logic can only get you so far. One only need look for a reliable local plumber to understand the limitations of a calculating algorithm. For many decisions, human’s look to other humans for advice. Which gets us back to Zagat. Quirky, idiosyncratic, (perhaps even a little unreliable compared to your own experiences), the kind of ‘data’ supplied by Zagat and other ratings based on human experiences must be a supplement to the fact-based logic of Google’s calculations. As with many things in life, the two together are more powerful than each separate.

My primary hope is that the Google brand learns how to be a little more human – to rely on the qualitative, opinion-based, individualized, extremely human information that Zagat has always provided and integrate that into it’s own brand…rather than try to ‘assimilate’ Zagat into the cool, calculating world of the Googlesphere.

Image: Flickr user Håkan Dahlström


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