Facebook appears to be taking direct aim at local search companies like Yelp and Google by offering listings of local businesses and services, complete with user reviews. The new feature is designed for desktop-only but will work for mobile users (it’s not mobile optimized yet) and hasn’t been announced by Facebook, Here’s what you’ll find:
Visitors to Professional Services are presented first with a page that has their current location pre-selected. Searches can be made within that area by typing into a dialog box that serves up business categories like plumbers, dentists, photographers, beauty salons, pharmacies, pizza places and so on.
There are at least 85 business types in an “Explore other services” section, and even more suggestions appear when you start typing into the search box. Need a recommendation for a taxidermist? Or the the best place to pick up supplies for a carnival? Facebook might be able to help, linking listings for the more than 50 million businesses that have Facebook Pages with people’s reviews.
Search results are displayed in a way that takes Facebook’s five-star rating system into account, but results aren’t strictly ranked by how many stars a business averages. Given Facebook’s deep knowledge of individual preferences, results are likely customized for users depending on their previous interactions with a business’s Page or whether someone they are connected with has reviewed a business on Facebook (We saw slightly different results when we were logged into Facebook compared to when we searched while logged out).
The results page displays businesses’ contact information and hours of business, and excerpts of reviews (with a link to see more reviews on the business’s Facebook Page). The services results page also includes a map that shows where businesses are located and links to similar businesses in adjacent areas.
People can also explore other areas in the feature pretty much anywhere on the planet. Users can seek out the highest-rated hotels, or search for the best pizza as long as there are reviews and ratings on Facebook for the business.
It’s not clear how Facebook Professional Services may integrate with Facebook Places, the social network’s local search directory that provides people a way to explore geographic locations through the eyes of Facebook friends and strangers. Some believe that Places could be a potential Yelp killer, if only Facebook promoted it more and, crucially, made it available on mobile devices. Now, Facebook might have two Yelp killers in the works.
We’ve sent an email to Facebook asking for comments and will update if we hear more.