Google Hotpot Powers Local Recommendations (Watch Out, Yelp)

With Marissa Mayer at the helm of geo and local services for just over a month now, Google launches Hotpot, a local recommendations engine where you rate your favorite places and see the places your friends like, too.

Log into your Google account and visit Hotpot—no, there's no missing S in the name—to see a list of places you can rate. The grid of playing cards layout shows you restaurants, parks, hotels, schools, and other destinations near your current location as well as from your search history. (As someone who constantly Googles places on the go, I was shocked at how well Hotpot suggested places I've been or have been interested in.)

Click on one of six stars at the bottom of each card to rate it something from "Hated it" to "Best ever." When you do, the card flips over and you can add more details to your review. Once you start reviewing places, Google will make recommendations in search results based on other places you've rated highly.

Lessons learned in the Buzz launch privacy kerfuffle are apparent in Hotpot: the app makes it clear at the start that your recommendations are public. You also set a custom image and profile name, which makes it easy to appear anonymous to others, even when you rate places using your regular Google account. Hotpot doesn't automatically add your Gmail contacts to your friends list, either; it encourages you to add friends, but you must do so explicitly. That means in order to get the best part of Hotpot—the part where you see your friends liked the restaurant you're considering going to for lunch—you've got to build yet another friends list.

Once you do, Google will display your friends' recommendations for places as you find them, as shown here.

 

An update to the Google Maps app for Android (version 4.7) which rolled out yesterday has Hotpot's recommendation capabilities built in. In maps, when you tap on a place, you can add stars and your review. That's okay, but in reality it's too much work. More useful is the new recommendations home screen widget. It automatically detects where you are, and you can add stars in one tap—which is much easier than launching an app and waiting for it to detect where you are in order to rate it. Google says recommendations are coming to Google Maps for iPhone "soon."

Even though Mayer has been publicly using Foursquare for some time, you can't "check in" to a place in Hotpot, you can only recommend it. For hardcore Google users, especially the ones toting Android phones, Hotpot looks like a worthwhile replacement for Yelp—if your friends actually use it, that is.

Gina Trapani needs all the help she can get deciding where to go for lunch. Follow @ginatrapani on Twitter.

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