Nicely designed site offers “guided browsing” rather than local search.

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Facebook has launched a new Places Directory, which is really an emerging local search site. Right now, it’s more accurately like “guided browsing.” It was first brought to our attention by Matteo Gamba.

The new Places mixes up Graph Search, the Page Locations API and other elements to make the directory a worthy supplement for some of your favorite local search and travel sites. It’s not quite yet a genuine substitute.

This also comes amid a revamping of local business Pages to put reviews front and center.

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The new directory invites a Place lookup by city name or other place name. The search box doesn’t respond to all queries and even common local queries. For example, “best sushi London” doesn’t deliver any results. In my tests I also couldn’t look up individual businesses that I knew had Facebook Pages.

Over time this will probably change as Graph Search evolves.

Facebook Places  Facebook Launches New Local Places Directory Screen Shot 2014 11 12 at 9

Once in an specific location, users can select from among a list of standard categories: Restaurants, Hotels, Bars, Cafes, Attractions, Arts & Entertainment and others. Each category in turn yields lists of results, which appear to be ranked by ratings and network affinity to the user.

Facebook Places  Facebook Launches New Local Places Directory Screen Shot 2014 11 12 at 9

Facebook Places  Facebook Launches New Local Places Directory Screen Shot 2014 11 12 at 9

There are also additional social tools in the right margin to further filter results in a category. This filtering is not as “robust,” for example, as on a hotel site that provides a wide range of narrowing options to users.

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When users drill down to the level of an individual business location you’re shown the business Page, which offers a reviews tab (as in the example above). There star ratings and user comments are visible. Though helpful and valuable, right now this content isn’t as complete or easy to consume as on Yelp or TripAdvisor for example.

There are multiple things Facebook can do to make these pages more useful. And as I mentioned elsewhere I think this is all a prelude to a Places app for smartphones. Interestingly, however, there’s no comparable mobile experience yet.

Within the current Facebook app you can see “nearby places” but this isn’t the same as what’s available through the new Places directory. Nor can you search for “New York Hotels” in the mobile app and get the same content as in the Places directory right now.

Facebook nearby places   Facebook Launches New Local Places Directory Screen Shot 2014 11 12 at 9

I would expect Facebook to rectify this relatively soon. The company knows that the dominant use case for its Places directory is ultimately mobile.

Still the new directory is a big step in the direction of local search, which has long been a very logical and even necessary step for Facebook as it seeks to provide more utility to users and bring more local business owners into the advertiser column.