google22 Hotpot: Googles Local Recommendation EngineGoogle announced yesterday the release of Hotpot – a local recommendation engine that works with Google Places. In yesterday’s blog post, Google product manager Lior Ron explained the purpose of Hotpot:

With Hotpot, we’re making local search results for places on Google more personal, relevant and trustworthy.

Here’s how it works: when exploring Google search results or Google maps, you can rate places you’ve been to. Rating places will create recommendations of other places for you to visit, and you can invite friends to join you on Hotpot and explore the places they have rated.

When viewing Hotpot in the browser, rating consists of one click to choose 1-5 stars or a ‘best ever’ medal. After you have rated a particular place, you can also leave a tip (sounding familiar, yet?). These ratings and tips will show up when you or your friends view this place from an Android phone, giving them an idea of which places you would recommend they visit (or not).

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Hotpot in Browser

The Google Maps app for Android includes the ability to rate places and leave tips on the go, so you don’t need to use a browser. Those who want to try this new feature on an iPhone can use the phone’s browser (if you’re in the US), but you can also look forward to a soon-to-be-released iPhone version of Hotpot.

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Hotpot Android App

Now, before I recommend you go check out Hotpot for yourself, I best acknowledge the elephant in the room – how is this any better (or even different) from what Foursquare, Gowalla, or Yelp do? I have to admit – there’s not much difference. The idea of leaving tips and ratings for places is essentially what Yelp is built on. The leaderboard included in the browser view encourages you to compete with your friends in rating the most places, with reminds me of the game elements of Foursquare, Gowalla, and even SCVNGR to some degree, except that it’s not a main element here. Saving places into a favourites list and viewing your friends’ ratings are not ground-breaking features either, so why would Google bother with Hotpot?

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Hotpot Leaderboard

Could it be that with 50 million places listed in Google Places, and over 3 million active Latitude users at last count, Google thinks just having the options of rating and recommending places will be enough to get users on board? The 5-star rating system is not as in-depth as Yelp, and seems to work more like Foursquare or Gowalla, only without a badge system or a great-looking UI. Google Maps has to be the key here – if you’re looking for a place on your phone with the Google Maps app and have the option of rating and reviewing the place without launching a separate application, why wouldn’t you? Sure, Foursquare badges are fun to collect, but what real benefit do they give you? Besides actual promotions using Foursquare or Gowalla check-ins, and the option to send your check-ins to Twitter and Facebook, why not check-in while you look at the map? And if Google adds Twitter and Facebook integration in the future, or starts partnering with businesses to create promotions? With such an extensive user-base for Latitude and Google Maps, perhaps it’s about time they took advantage of those numbers.