Monday, October 1, 2012

Field Trip

Google...  A chimp could get lost in that field.

This weekend I installed Google's new Android app, Field Trip.  Field Trip is a new application from Google that has just been, very quietly, released.  I didn't go back and look, but I'm pretty sure there was nothing in the Google blogs about the app.  I first took note of it from a Wired review, here.

Field Trip appears to be (another) location aware informational application for mobile devices.  It is tied into information sources on restaurants, tourist attractions, museums and the like.  The only thing unique in this that I can see, is that Field Trip is designed to pop up notifications when a user is physically near these sites.  It is in that sense like a proactive search, for people interested in things that are near by as they explore a presumably unknown city.

The first I noticed about Field Trip is that the user interface is completely unlike anything I have ever seen from Google.  And it is quite attractive too.  Obviously they just bought this app.

The second thing I noticed in setting the app up is that it is quite limited in information sources.  It has a remarkably small handful of sources feeding it, such as Zagat.  Some of these sources are specific to a certain city, and so are of no use 99.9% of the time.

Not enough information is an unusual flaw in a Google application.

The third thing I noticed was that Field Trip didn't do anything.  At least it didn't do anything at first.  After been on my phone for a hour or two, it popped up with a short review of a Mexican restaurant nearby.

Over the following weekend I visited a touristy little town an hour or two away.  The town has a trendy  old-town shopping area featuring many restaurants, galleries, shops and historic buildings.  There were also multiple special weekend events going on in the downtown area.

I set Field Trip on it's "tell me everything" mode.  Over the course of the weekend, as I walked from one end of town to the other, it came up with...  Nothing.

I am not surprised by this, given it's limited data sources.  It's not even tied into normal Google information, or reviews.

Meanwhile...  I read this:

Places Directory was an Android app that helped people find nearby places of interest. We've removed the app from Google Play and are taking down the Places Directory site because users can find everything in Google Maps for Mobile, which offers a much better user experience.

Google is pulling the plug on Places.

"Places" started out as "Local" and was supposed to be, thought to be, said to be, smelled like it would be, tied into Google's shopper/check-in/discount/location/social strategy.  But they never did much with it.  Now that is canceled, but they added this Field Trip, which doesn't have anything to do with shopping or check-ins or social, and isn't tied to Google's reviews or any of the things Google Places acted like it was all about.  

What are we to make of this?  Is Google interested in a local business strategy?

Two things come to my mind, one is that maybe they're right and the sun is setting on all that Yelp, Foursquare, Groupon stuff.  

On the other hand maybe the plan is to pass all that through into Google+, which does have some elements of this, but not all.

And why did Google buy Zagat if they don't have a Places?

A year or two ago, Google did a major campaign with small businesses built around Google Places.  Now it's dropped?   Why was all this never tied into Google Shopper?  It is said that Google wanted to buy Groupon for a serious amount of money, now they think that type of business is dead?

In typical Google fashion, none of this makes any sense.  Maybe it's all part of a Master Plan and a whole lot of new Google+ features are about to roll out.

Or maybe Google's strategies are determined by observing a pack of distracted squirrels dodging a self-driving car.