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Google tightens grip on local by buying “Alfred” maker Clever Sense

by Phil Hornshaw

Google has extended its spree of buying-up companies specializing in local recommendations by snapping up Clever Sense, the maker of recommendation app Alfred.

In light of the success of Apple’s Siri voice-activated personal assistant, it seems like Google’s continued acquisitions of apps companies like Clever Sense could be an attempt to build a base of applications and data that could help the company roll out a service that competes with it. Google has been engaged in being the leader in local for a while now, and with Alfred’s purporting to be “The Pandora for the real world,” Google is continuing to gather the things it needs to really be a force in curated local information.

Alfred is a little like Siri in that it searches the Internet to bring back recommendations to the user when they’re looking for local information, like good restaurants or theaters. It also pays attention to users’ preferences, so the more you use it, the better its recommendations become. That’s also a lot like Siri, and Google adds Alfred and its abilities to a list of other local recommendation apps it has grabbed, like restaurant recommender Zagat and The Deal Map this summer. Combined with Google’s other services, like Google Schemer – a web-based activities recommendation engine – and Google Wallet, the near-field communication payment service, it seems Google is building itself to be the go-to provider of services that bring users to local businesses.

Another new report, this one from Mashable, claims that Google is already working on a Siri competitor under the codename “Majel”. The information comes from AndroidandMe, which claims Google is working to extend is existing voice platform, Voice Actions. Google’s Android devices already support a number of voice interactions – the idea with Majel is to create software that, like Siri, allows for more natural speech and gives the phone the tools to interpret what users are saying without having to use machine speak.

All this points toward a service or group of services that Google is working on to help you find the best of what’s around you. Siri works on a similar basis, referencing information from places such as Yelp to dish out local recommendations and information. Google, it appears, is trying to take things one step further with all the services it has gathered, getting the best of lots of different areas – Alfred, Zagat for restaurants, The Dealmap for local sales. Throw in the ability to use Google to pay for the things you might buy at these places and you have a formidable platform. If the Majel rumors are true, it’d be a platform you could talk to, as well.

But that’s in the future, and it probably will be a while before Google is in any position to roll out a comprehensive competitor for Siri. In the meantime, there’s Alfred, which Google might own but it will likely leave alone for the time being. What Google comes up with when all these services are up and running together, however, is going to be very interesting.