As we predicted, the online ratings game online is heating up and this week, Google made a move to get their piece of the pie. After a former agreement with the most popular review site, Yelp.com went south some time back, Google has aimed to get around not licensing content yet using said content for their mobile search platform.
This week, Google announced that a dedicated “Places” icon will allow Android phone users to find places that are nearby and includes local reviews, just like on your computer but juiced up to be useful for mobile users.
Without licensing content from Yelp.com, suddenly reviews from all over the web (including Yelp) are showing up when mobile browsers use the Google maps application. Without going on a tangent, let’s just say that there is a question of ethics here and it’s one that echoes in the real estate industry… ever hear of content that you’ve produced or procured (like a listing) become highjacked (err, aggregated) and used on a third party site without your direct permission? The argument is that well, you agents (and you Yelp owners) put everything online, so the assumption is that you (and Yelp) obviously meant for it to be aggregated by third parties, right? C’mon.
Regardless of the ethics behind it, chances are that Google will win a lawsuit allowing aggregation and mobile searchers will use Google Maps instead of Yelp, hurting Yelp’s traffic. Yelp will find a way to fight this or a way to adjust and this will be swept under the rug because of Google’s sheer size.
That said, this all changes mobile search by putting reviews at the finger tips of consumers. They walk into a listing you have and decide they need to check in on Foursquare, leave a review of the house (and maybe a review of you) on Yelp and tell everyone on Twitter about it. Reviews aren’t just star ratings systems anymore, but crowdsourcing of opinion, creating an overarching opinion that serves as a review.
Making reviews more easily reached by consumers is ultimately a good thing (although I hope it is obtained ethically), and real estate professionals that fear rather than engage will quickly fall behind.