Why is this important to business owners? As a business owner, you were probably frustrated that anyone could publish a review of your business on Google...Even your competition! And, you had no control of it, no way to respond. Yes, you could flag an inappropriate review so Google can take it down. However, that takes weeks, if ever! Now, business owners can engage their customers, (and competitors), by leaving comments underneath the reviews that are left on Google by the general public. (see picture below).
If you are not familiar with Google Places, you are probably familiar with the product that it creates in the Google Search Engine: "Local Business Results." (See picture below). Each business has "X number of reviews" underneath each business listing. When you click on the "X number of reviews", a list of reviews and comments will be presented. (See picture below).
IMPORTANT: Google quickly stated that it cannot control reviews that are posted on businesses outside of Google Places, i.e. Yelp, YellowPages.com, etc.
This is a good move by Google as it allows business owners to respond to complaints, poor service, or a competitor "spoofing" them with a bad review to make them look bad. For more on the new announcement, click here: Information Week