Digital Dumbo expands03 August 2011

It was a busy week here in DUMBO last week! I attended both the Digital DUMBO (DD) workshop series featuring Google Places, as well as the flagship DD monthly event sponsored by MetroMix and Brooklyn Gin.

I have always been a supporter of DD from the very start. DUMBO may be a small neighborhood, but as a community, we are huge. Nowhere else will you find such a concentrated group of young, talented professionals all driving the future of digital media. Over 80 digital agencies reside here in the New York Digital District (NYDD), making a dense population and a hell of a lot of computers. DD is not only a place to network with all types of people and companies, but also a place for the NYDD community to regroup and relax every month with a beer (or in this week’s case, gin!) in hand.

The DD workshop series is a new concept that aims to educate and engage the public in subject matter relevant in the fast-paced progression of digital business. Taking place at reBar’s reRun theater, companies like WECREATE NYC, Snapgoods, and loosecubes give lectures and hold conversations with attendees at lunch time on various subjects affecting the digital community. This week was Google Places.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t exactly sure how to distinguish Google Places from Google the search engine before RSVPing to this DD workshop. I later realized that it was a separate product of Google and every time I used Google Maps or even just the Google search engine, Google Places was there with its ratings stars and reviews of local businesses at my disposal. It was great to learn more about how Google is improving Places to better serve a consumer’s needs to explore and share their experiences. Personally, when searching for a new restaurant or bar in the area, I use Yelp because it’s what they specialize in. I feel a bit strange using Google Places because Google itself covers such a broad range of subjects. For example, when I type in “Vegetarian,” it’s not only going to generate restaurants in my area, but also markets, grocery stores, and who knows what else. It also may have a lot to do with force of habit. Whatever the case, I generally enjoy my Yelp experiences and personally haven’t really seen a more intuitive application that is any better at helping me satisfy my hunger. Regardless, the workshop raised many important and valuable points concerning Google Place’s role in local social culture (what they call “lo-so”).

The majority of the attendees were just as clueless as me about the role Google Places is attempting to fill. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they are trying to integrate a more fluid and user-friendly way of sharing reviews with friends and strangers. Now when I type in “vegetarian” into Places, not only will it give me a list of nearby veggie-friendly restaurants, but will also show me friends that have rated and recommended those restaurants. Don’t have many friends on Google+? Me neither (let’s be friends!) – this yields the perfect opportunity for Google to “get to know you.” This might sound somewhat creepy, but also, isn’t this what we’re all looking for? An easy way to find a place to eat without the hassle and trouble of asking around and sifting through the endless number of ranting reviews on the web? As a user searches and reviews more often, it gives Places an idea of what other people using Places have similar tastes and opinions – the “people like you” feature. If it works as well as it sounds, I am most definitely on board.

All in all, I think Google Places received some really great feedback from the attendees and the attendees were able to hear what Google has been up to. Not only did we all get to munch on some delicious reBar food during the presentation, but it was interesting to see the direction social media is taking in terms of efficient and effective web searches. A big thank you to Digital Dumbo for creating these workshops — what a great way for the NYDD community to learn and connect, and a great way for businesses to share their ideas and start important conversations.