Several people spotted a Google test involving a new look for local results on Google.com. It substitutes a horizontal map for a vertical one on the right rail (thus allowing more ads to appear above the fold) and gray pins instead of red. The gray pushpins become red when moused over.
Here’s a screen showing the current look of Google Places search results:
Here’s the new SERP being tested, which features the horizontal map in the upper right and the gray-to-red pins:
My guess is that Google ultimately won’t adopt the horizontal-rectangle version of the map you see immediately above. However the company is clearly trying to find a balance between a large map (effectively a big icon indicating local), that takes up valuable ad space, and one that is too small or out of proportion with the page dimensions.
The screencast below shows the newlook format in action.
Postscript: Mike B. is now reporting that the gray pins are live. However this isn’t true across the country. Perhaps it’s just rolling out and will be live nationally in a couple of days.
A Google blog post shows the new format and some other updates/upgrades to Places search results, including a greatly enhanced right column: