Earlier today, 9to5Google pointed us to a blog post from Google announcing a new feature for Google Maps: messaging businesses. After it rolls out to iPhone and Android users, there will be a new “messages” button on the left-hand slide out drawer that lets you message the businesses you find in Google Maps.
A business that wants to participate will need to use Google’s “My Business” verification system and its associated app to send and receive messages. That app was just overhauled, as Adweek notes — making it more of a one-stop shop for small businesses to update their information for Google and to chat with customers.
I’m just going to tell you right now that I have several conflicting feelings about this new feature and we’re going to explore them together.
First: this seems like a genuinely useful feature. More than once I’ve just wanted to ask a store or a restaurant a quick question that isn’t covered by their website and would be willing to wait for the answer. I’ve spent the past few days listening to a colleague over at Curbed call up local businesses one by one to find out if they still have respirators in stock in wake of the wildfires here in Northern California, for example. Texting could theoretically be more convenient for everybody involved. It’s a little less interruptive for the store employee, simpler for the customer. Net-net: nice.
But second, shall we make the easy joke that Google can’t seem to stop launching new messaging platforms while its primary messaging platform strategy is still a mess? Yes, yes we shall. Hangouts is dead for consumers and Allo is “paused” and RCS Chat still hasn’t launched here in the US across all major carriers. Neither AT&T nor Verizon will commit to a launch date. (I asked them both this week.)
I bring up RCS not just for the cheap shot, but also because it’s a good example of how “business messaging” is quickly becoming big business. It’s part of the plan for RCS Chat, it exists inside Facebook Messenger and iMessage, and it’s a big part of the eventual business plan for WhatsApp. So it makes sense that Google would want to be in this space and, honestly, it makes some sense to put it inside Maps instead of in another messaging app. As Google notes, it keeps your business chat messages separate from your personal messages.
So let’s leave messaging aside and give Google this one. It can’t push harder on business messaging inside Android Messages, because it can’t leverage RCS, because it ceded control of its message platform to the whims of its carrier partners. Putting business messaging inside Google Maps is a good solution in that context. And anyway, this messaging feature already existed and the news here is simply that you can get to it inside Google Maps.
But that leads me to my third feeling: what the heck is going on with Google Maps? It is becoming overburdened with so many features and design changes that it’s becoming harder and harder to just get directions in it. There’s Group Planning, there’s a social-esque “follow” button for local businesses, you can share your ETA, there’s a redesigned “Explore” section, and there’s almost no way to get the damn thing to show you a cross street near your destination without three full minutes of desperate pinching and zooming and re-zooming.
It’s becoming bloated, is what I’m saying. It’s Google’s equivalent of Big Blue, as Facebook nicknames its flagship app that does a thousand things across countless strange nooks and crannies. It’s as though Google wants to kill off Yelp once and for all, but can’t let anybody notice how hard it’s trying to do that so it just slow rolls those things into Google Maps instead.
These have been my feelings about Google adding messaging functionality to Maps, which on the whole seems like a pretty good feature. Thank you for experiencing them with me.