Hotpot, Google’s new recommendation engine for local, while still in its infancy is already influencing results in Places and Maps. In Maps, when a searcher sees a listing that has a review from a Hotpot friend, Google will surface that friend’s snippet in the list view. As such, in this case, it is the most relevant snippet I have ever seen in Maps view. It was surprising to “see a friend” and it was attention grabbing seeing Stever’s icon there. In that regard, it is very rewarding and likely to feed back into the social success of Hotpot…
The friends snippet is not yet showing on a pure Places search but it is showing up prominently on the Places Page. I assume once there is more data and the quality has been confirmed you will see it there and at some point showing in the organo local blended results as well. (click to see full size)
Along with the recent rollout of Hotpot, Google has added new review related features to the Places Page. The first, available on restaurants and hotels (perhap more but not on every type of business) allows you to summarize sentiment about the location:
The ability to quickly and easily add sentiment will further build out Google’s data in the service industries. As users fill out more reviews, friends make more recomendations Google will use this additional data to refine and improve those recommendations.
On all Places Pages your rating is now visible and with hotels Google has now also added the ability to book your hotel right from the Places Page:
This feature facilitates the process of getting bookings and removes friction from it. It also provides additional advertising inventory for Google from hotel booking services. The feature is not totally mercenary as it also offers up the hotel site for booking and gives the hotel a 1 in 4 chance of not having to give money to Priceline et al while still getting a sale.
In August I asked: Will Reviews Become Google’s First Successful Foray into Social? It struck me at the time that reviews were Google’s strongest and most successful play into the social world. Google had succeeded with Places to garner a significant number of reviews and with the owner review response feature to garner a strong, albeit sometimes, bizarre interaction between reviewers and owners. This dynamic had all the elements of a successful social site.
Google is now building out the strong social nature of their review process with Google Hotpot, a stand alone site and a recomendation engine available in Maps, Places and Mobile. The product, noted as an early release, will offer suggested Places that you will like based on your previous reviews as well as the Places that are liked by your friends.
Since it is a recommendation engine, it will reward the viewer with better information for having written reviews or having friends or both thus making it functional out of the starting gate even without a large friend participation.
If you are friended it will also send you an email notifying you:
Subject: Matthew McGee wants to share recommendations with you on Google Places
Matthew has added you as a friend on Google Places — a smarter way to discover places you’ll love. Add Matthew back to see new recommendations in Google search results, on Google Maps, and on your mobile phone.
Add Matthew as a friend
Google Places is powered by Hotpot, our new local recommendation engine. Every time you rate places on Google, we’ll customize your search results with new recommendations based on your unique tastes. Adding friends whose opinions you trust makes your recommendations even better. Start building your own guide to the world at google.com/hotpot.
– The Google Places team
The recommendations are not just around entertainment or restaurants but around ALL places and are based on your preferred location identifed in Google search. Like all recommendation engines in their early stages without enough real data, results can tend toward the bizarre.
For example it provided me, an staunch non-believer, with suggestions for the local Catholic school and a local church. Perhaps Google is sending me a message. But then what would one think about the recommendation for my own business or a local motel?
This move makes sense of a number of earlier changes that in and of themselves did not make a lot of sense. Hotspot puts their early 2010 addition of Nearby Places of competitors into the Place Page in perspective as well as more recent moves of tightening down privacy in the review process and making your search location choice more visible on the desktop. All necessary to make Hotspot more accurate.
Google has long been working on the separation of Places and Maps. This is as much to give Places a more visible platform as it is to give Maps the freedom to experiment with more social layers without negatively affecting “the franchise”. Latittude, Buzz and now Hotspot are all integrally tied to the Maps platform. Maps offer them an underlying geo awareness for the data as well as a display layer that is visually intuitive.
These social moves leverage Google’s strong Mapping technology AND their successful Places data set without the intense pressure of being on the front page of the Google results. Like Buzz & Lattitude, Hotspot will exist in the relative obscurity of Maps and the Places Pages. Google separated Places from Maps after 6 years of development and refinement. Hotspot, like Places, will have the opportunity to develop in much the same way.
But even the “hidden” nature of Maps has a relatively high profile with 3 times the traffic of Yelp. Google’s every move is compared to Facebook. So while Google is attempting to get these layers functioning at scale they will be under a fair bit of scrutiny.
Will Hotpot succeed? Time will tell. It is clear to to me that Hotspot like Places & Buzz are not perceived within Google as stand alone products but clearly, part of a larger plan that includes local, mobile and at some point the main Google SERPS. Maps is an environment where it can get tested, tweaked and improved.