Last year, Google released the “Popular Times” feature in its search engines and inside maps. Using anonymised data, it meant that if you were to search for a public building, it would tell you exactly when it was historically busiest. Generally, this was pretty self-explanatory: bars tend to be busier on Friday and Saturday nights than Monday mornings, but it was still handy in allowing you to plan your day.

The trouble with it was this: it used historical data, meaning that anything out of pattern – say, somebody’s leaving drinks taking over a whole bar – wouldn’t show up, because it’s not something that happens every day (unless you work in a particularly dispiriting place.)

The feature is about to get a **** of a lot more useful: it’s going real-time.

Now Google will tell you what to expect if you were to head over to a bar or restaurant right now. As you can see in the preview above, it also gives you the option of telling Google if their report is way off (though “a little busy” is ambiguous enough that you’d have thought people’s definitions would vary.)

That’s the main headline change, but there are some other neat additions too. First off: “time management”. This gives you insights into how long people typically loiter at a set location. In the case of a bar, it might be a few hours, if it’s the post office it might be for all of eternity.

Finally, opening hours will now be broken down by department. So no more heading to the supermarket because Google said it would be open, only to find the pharmacy shut two hours earlier.

I can’t see the feature live at the moment, but I imagine it should be rolling out in the next few days, given Google has already gone ahead and announced it. Just in time to plan your Christmas shopping, but – SPOILER – you’ll find everywhere is exceptionally busy all the time, so maybe just do it online?



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