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Following reports from LeWeb that Google has been working on expanding its location-based products, the company has quietly released Schemer, an invite-only web application designed to help people explore both new and familiar cities.

In line with Google’s promotion of Google+ as a central hub for all of its products, the news was announced there by a self-described “scrappy group of Google engineers who wanted to help people do fun stuff in the real world.”

The idea is that people submit 'schemes', or plans for things to do, as well as explore suggestions from other members or corporate 'accomplices'. At the moment, those accomplices include Bravo, Zagat, Food Network, Rolling Stone, Lifehacker and Entertainment Weekly.

Though it's wrapped up in a different outfit, without the check-in abilities, Schemer sounds a lot like Foursquare. Or Yelp for that matter, or a whole host of other similar location-centric businesses that state their goal as being to help people find the best things to do in a city instead of point to the technology at the heart of their business. But then again, there's a healthy dash of Facebook Events in there as well, without such a focus on private events. 

But before we all get too excited about Schemer being a Foursquare ‘killer’ or some such, let’s not forget that one of the most exciting things about Google is its willingness to test things out. Beware the Google Wave effect.

This hasn’t been rolled out with usual fanfare, and seems to be a result of what Google does best. The company allows its staff to think on their feet and work on projects that produce something new for the company. An attack on Foursquare this might be, but it feels like Google’s testing the water for feedback on whether this kind of service has any legs within its community. In fact, the majority of new products and tweaks to come out of the company of late seem geared towards tempting people towards Google+ as a one-stop shop, strengthening its armour bit by bit.

But Schemer isn't the only 'competitive' product Google’s been working on.

Google Currents, a free app for Android and iOS, hlaunched yesterday with 150 content partners that include Huffington Post, All Things Digital, Slate and CNET. 

This means that the company has now added its own application to the vast number of aggregator apps that include (most directly) Flipboard, Taptu, and Pulse - but also a host of other services on varying platforms.

It’s free and there are no ads of yet, but Google says that publishers can link their Google Currents editions to their Analytics accounts, therefore adding another cog to that wheel.

The trouble with the big G is that no matter what it releases, people will get over-excited and predict that whatever the product is is a far more dramatic attack on another company than it might be in reality. This is a good thing for them in some ways; it asserts dominance and ensures that the brand is always involved in conversations about developing areas of technology. But at the same time, it means that Schemer, which appears to be full of potential but ultimately looks like a pet project, is given as much credence as Currents – a tool that could truly become favoured within the aggregation space because of its trackability. Especially since a self-service portal has been created to allow even the smallest of publishers to use it.

Finally, adding more weight to my point above about Google+ being the centre of everything for the companby at the moment, Google has also today released several updates to the platform.

As if launching two new services in 24 hours isn't enough, Google+ now includes face recognition. A new feature called Find my Face draws more inspiration from Facebook, allowing users to tag photos more accurately. Gmail has also been included in this, with tighter integration making it easier to add people to Google+ from your inbox, and to filter according to Circles.

Vikki Chowney

Published 9 December, 2011 by Vikki Chowney

Vikki is head of community at TMW. You can follow her on Twitter or Google+

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