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Facebook's new Places page treads on Yelp's turf

The new page scours cities across the globe for the top restaurants, hotels, theaters, schools and landmarks.

Looking for something to do in New York? Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Looking for a good restaurant or hotel for your next vacation spot? Facebook may now be able to help.

The world's largest social network has rolled out a new and updated page called Places that helps you find things to do and places to go in a variety of cities. Think of it as Facebook's version of local search and travel sites such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. The main difference is that Places is more of a browsing tool than a search tool.

What is Facebook's goal behind the page? The social network certainly wants its users to spend more time on its site, and the Places page is one way of doing that. Places leads you directly to the Facebook pages for the businesses you explore. It also displays likes and reviews from fellow Facebook users. So rather than offering a travel and destination feature as a separate service, Facebook has integrated the new page into its overall site.

With Facebook Places, you type or select the name of the city that you wish to explore. The main page lists a number of cities at the bottom, but you can type in any city in the search field to see if anything pops up. In return, the page displays the name of the city and various categories, such as restaurants, hotels, bars and arts & entertainment.

Scroll down the page, and you'll find a few selections for each category. Click on a "See all" links, and you'll find a lengthy list of all the selections for that category. As one example, look for restaurants in New York, and the page conjures up a lengthy list of eating establishments in the Big Apple. From there, you can narrow down the results based on type of restaurant and whether any of your Facebook friends have liked it.

You can click on the name of a restaurant to view its Facebook page. You can also like it, save it and view a map of its location. The same process applies to hotels, bars, landmarks and other hot spots. In some cases, you'll also see brief reviews from other Facebook users who've sampled the business and can provide a quick opinion of it.

"Facebook Places is a page that allows you to search for publicly-available info about cities, even if you are not logged in," said a Facebook spokesperson. "Results will include publicly shared photos, reviews and posts on Facebook to help you find popular places to visit. Results will be customized for people who are logged in to include posts that they are in the audience for."

The Facebook Places page actually launched in 2011 in a fairly rough and unfriendly format. The updated page is a welcome improvement over the original version.

Overall, the redesigned Places page is a good attempt by Facebook to direct you to the best locations around the world. It ties into the overall Facebook experience by showing you the Facebook pages of businesses and revealing which, if any, of your friends may have liked it. But if I'm out and about and looking for a restaurant or other business, I'd be more likely to turn to a mobile app like Yelp.

As one improvement, I'd like to see a more mobile-friendly edition. You can use the site on your mobile device by going to the mobile page, but it's not as user-friendly as the full website. Baking the Places page into Facebook's mobile app would go a long way toward making the service more effective and easier to use.

Update, 9:18 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Facebook.

(Via Search Engine Land and Mmatteogamba)