Google Hotpot: Social Layers Or Reinforced Box?


While you were hopefully out having a life last night (I think I was still in the office…crap), Google released its personalized recommendation engine, Google Hotpot. The goal of Google Hotpot, other than just sounding completely ridiculous, is to make location recommendations more personal and relevant by recommending places based on your ratings and the Hotpot ratings of your friends. Or at least that’s the MO Google is publicly going with. After all, it does sound better than “scoot scoot, little mouse!”.

What Google Hot Pocket Google Hotpot really is, is another layer. It’s another layer to Google’s growing onion of social-local that already includes the likes of Google Places (now representing 50 million businesses), Google Latitude (no, really, give me your exact coordinates), Google Social Search (Peer Pressure:2010) and others. The problem is, sometimes layers don’t feel like layers. When piled one on top of another, they feel like concrete walls. And then people begin to feel a little claustrophobic.

In other words: I’m starting to feel a little claustrophobic.

If you’re interested in the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of Google HotSpot Google Hotpot, Vanessa Fox has a great rundown over at Search Engine Land, including screenshots and a breakdown of some of Hotpot’s more confusing quirks.

After playing with it for a bit, I think the UI for Google Hotpot is pretty neat. It’s lightweight and makes the activity of reviewing something almost addictive, tugging at people’s competitiveness and pitting them against their friends to be the most “influential” in their circle. All that is neat. However, as Vanessa notes, things do get a little confusing when you’re asked to create a separate Google Hotpot identity and go through the annoying process of re-adding all your friends. Google says they’re doing it for privacy reasons, but I wonder if that’s really an issue when it comes to leaving most reviews? Seems to me it’s just a great way to get rid of all accountability or CRM usefulness to SMBs, but whatevs. What’s more pressing is that if you have an advanced user (read: former Google employee) like Vanessa stumbling through the process, I imagine you’re going to, at best, confuse and, at worse, turn off lots of everyday users. And really, people hate re-adding friends. It reinforces the fact they don’t have any.

But none of that is my real issue with Google Hotpot. My issue with Google Hotpot is that I’m starting to feel like the walls are closing in, like I’m a tiny little mouse being shuffled into a box labeled “Google”. And I either cooperate or my business suffers.

Instead of analyzing Google Hotpot from a feature perspective, I’m left wondering if Google missed the memo that real people don’t want this.

From the outside, Google Hotspot reads like a lame attempt to hide the fact that Google didn’t buy Yelp when it maybe should have and now they’re scrambling to get similar content. We’ve seen Google remove Yelp reviews from Google Place Pages and create their own review system. Now they’re trying to one up them and create a new business recommendation engine, possibly pulling in location data from Latitude and your Web history.

One problem. No one wants this kind of app from Google. See: Buzz, Wave.

ReadWriteWeb seems to disagree, taking the stance that by moving the review process “in house” Google will be able to accurately pair people with preferred businesses and, ultimately, unseat Yelp from its position as King of Reviews.

Two trouble spots:

  1. Again, everyday users don’t want this from Google.
  2. For this to be successful, Google is going to have to train a majority of the population to leave reviews. Because, frankly, research shows that while 60 percent of consumers think reviews are important, only 20 percent actually leave them. There’s an uphill battle for ya.

If you want to see a better implementation of what Google is trying to do here, go check out how FourSquare is using tips. If you’re too lazy to do it yourself, Michael Gray recently broke down how website owners and publishers can use FourSquare and specifically dove into the Tips feature. To me, those are personalized recommendations that make sense. They are tips (reviews on steroids) from your friends that appear when you either search the Tips tab in your FourSquare app or when you’re checked into a particular location. If you can’t be original, at least be better.

Unfortunately, as a small business owner, you may not be able to ignore Hotpot because there will be visibility implications if you do [Unless this just goes away in a month, which is entirely possible]. Hotpot may not affect your rankings from an organic ranking standpoint, but you damn well better believe it will affect visibility from a social/ personalization standpoint. Look at the prominence Google gives content found via Social Search. Expect that to carry over here.

Personally, Google’s local desperation is starting to make me a little claustrophobic. But we all know I’m a little paranoid. What about you? What are you early thoughts of Google Hotpot? Cool new service from Google or their desperate attempt to hang on to local like Gollum holding onto that damn ring?

Your Comments

  • Michael Dorausch

    It’s a conspiracy to make sure small businesses continue to hire SEOs! There’s no way any one business can keep up with all this stuff and it’s only going to get worse/better (your choice) in 2011. I agree, the name sucks, but aside from that it’s one-more-thing on an already long to-do list for local search. I kinda hope it just goes away. Personally, I think the 20% number on people leaving reviews is high, more like 5% or less in my experience.

    • Lisa Barone

      You kid, but you also make a good point – if you’re a small business owner, how ARE you supposed to keep up with all this without hiring on outside help. There’s just so much to be aware of now that “local” is the darling of the ball.

      I also agree the 20 percent number sounds high, but that’s what was stated. Five percent (or lower) sounds closer.

      • Dawn Wentzell

        I’m sorry, how are WE – the SEOs who do local – supposed to keep up with it? The changes are coming so fast and furious that we barely have time to make sure our clients are well situated with the last set of changes and the next one comes along.

        Although if Google can make people start reviewing, then kudos to them. That’ll at least save us from educating our clients on how to educate their clients on leaving reviews.

  • Allison

    A little food for thought: I posted something on Facebook for all my real friends (sorry other SEO’s and business contacts but in this case I’m referring to the people I see and interact with outside of “work”) and no one gave a crap.
    I posted something to that effect on Twitter too and no one gave a crap there either.
    If no one gives a crap about this comment, I’m gonna start to get a complex.

    But seriously, the only people that seem to be focused on Hotpot right now are marketing types, not the general public. I’m just interested to see if it catches on or if it’s just one more thing to confuse the issue. At least the UI makes it fun and easy to add a ton of reviews… and also a little easy to spam.

    • Lisa Barone

      I give a crap! :)

      No one is focused on Hotpot because it just launched last night. However, if we start to see Hotpot reviews coming into the SERPs the same way we see other content via Social Search then businesses are going to be forced to care. The same way they now have to worry about Google Places. Regular users may not care, but if you’re trying to market your business on the Web, you don’t have the luxury of just tuning it out.

  • Joe Hall

    I just tried HotBot, and it placed me in Myrtle Beach. I am like 30 minutes south of MB. So thats the first fail. and the second is when Google assumes I have local friends……Oh God, I need to get out more.

    Remember when Yahoo used to be cool. One of the things they always did right was buy business to extend their brand. Just take a look at flickr and HotJobs for example. Why do companies put so much stock in their own ideas?? Why can’t they swallow their pride and leverage other peoples work that are obviously doing things better than they can?

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, the no local friends thing may be why this service WILL be popular with reg folk but not popular with us Internet types. ;)

      This feels a bit like Google trying to reinvent the wheel. They’re asking people to create content that already exists because they weren’t able to work something out with Yelp.And then, to add insult to injury, they named it Hotpot.What the hell is a hotpot?

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    I lean toward the “this is going to fail, because the Google Labs crack addicts invented it out of arrogance after the missed Yelp deal. Even if they get any legs going on this, I don’t see that it’s worth bothering to care about. I just don’t see it scaling well enough to truly compete against Yelp. Unless they eventually replace Yelp reviews in Google Places with HotPotatoes. So yeah, they may eventually be able to force their presence. Doubtful, though possible.

    • Lisa Barone

      Dammit! HotPotatoes! I missed that one! :)

      I agree, it’s going to be really hard to scale this, which is why it’s (hopefully) all moot. RWW wanted to pretend it could be a “Yelp Killer” but I honestly can’t see that happening. Google gets a little bit of bully room because they’re Google, but the fact that they’re Google is also why no one is going to take this. We don’t need Google to give us a recommendation engine. We need Google to help us find the content that’s already out there. Google keeps forgetting who they are.

    • Chuck Reynolds

      I kind of agree with ya there Alan… it’s really Yelp’s Mini Me… Micro (?) reviews that will play into places reviews and mean something but nobody needs this… it’s a weird addon to places. But, it’s definitely aimed at Yelp – no doubt. Bitter much google? :)

  • Jon S

    I’ve followed you on the twitterverse for quite some time now and for the most part you are pretty spot on with most your assessments. I think in this rare case, you’re ohh so objective judgment may have been clouded by your proximity to the situation. Yes, Google has swung and missed at several strategies to generate local content. However, most users don’t even know this. It’s rare people even notice the minute changes Google makes. Although they feel monumental at times for people deeply entrenched in the search engine / social marketing biz, they are mere after thoughts for every day users. The interface for Hotspots (agreed, it’s a lame name) is really engaging! I rarely review products, I typically delete all of Amazon’s 40 e-mail product review requests, but I couldn’t help myself from using Hotspots- it was just soo easy. How this Hotspot review process can be logically delivered to users has yet to be seen, but the interface is captivating and in the end that’s all that really matters from a users stand point, right? And from Google’s standpoint; do they just quit trying to acquire user generated local data or do they just try and try again?

    • Lisa Barone

      I think if you realize that no one wants YOUR social/personalized content, you get it from the sources they do want it from. I’d also say you’re not “normal” by the fact that you’re reading this blog. [on multiple levels ;) ] You’re way more tuned into the idea of reviews and that type of activity. Most people aren’t. My mother or non-Web-savvy brother is not going to leave a review on Hotpot. If they do a search, however, they may see a Yelp review and click on that. People take in reviews, most don’t leave them. Trying to launch a product that already EXISTS to collect them doesn’t seem like the best idea yet.

  • Robert Brady

    When I saw the name I thought about hot tubs (since I grew up calling the local hot springs the “hot pots”). But a naming #fail doesn’t have to doom a product (iPad anyone?) so I’ll take a wait and see approach. After all, I am starting to see some of my non-techie local friends getting on Twitter recently. So maybe all Google Hot or Not needs is a couple years.

  • Misty Lackie

    “My issue with Google Hotpot is that I’m starting to feel like the walls are closing in, like I’m a tiny little mouse being shuffled into a box labeled “Google”. And I either cooperate or my business suffers.”

    Yep! Local businesses basically need to be in Places or pay the bucks in PPC in order to get noticed in Google. Is Hotpot ratings now going to be required too in order to garnish that top spot? Seems like local biz is being forced into a Google box. It just doesn’t feel right.

  • Unmana

    Hey Lisa, aren’t you going to review LinkedIn’s product recommendation feature?

  • Adam Riemer

    I’d like to add a 3. to the trouble shots if thats ok.

    3. Many reviews are left because of an emotion or unusual experience. Many times it is a negative one and they want to bash the company. Without developing the addiction to leaving reviews they could be very skewed. I think that if they can develop an addicted community to play the “hotpotato game” where you don’t want to be the only one in your group left standing without being on top of it you could.

    This could also possibly help SMBs with customer loyalty and branding. If they can get them debating or commenting about events that are taking place then tweeting it out, etc… it could be a good thing.

    I think the success of HotPot will depend on how well G can get their users hooked and wanting to interact with other fans of the service.

    The other thing that could be kind of cool for a user experience but bad for SEOs and people is showing results based on behaviors like when you are traveling. If you are looking for dance clubs and you like house music or bars or Italian restaurants then it could possibly give end users more relevant results personalized to their tastes.

    If the search is dance clubs and based on club reviews and your reviews it could pull up clubs that play house music instead of rap based on reviews and where you have commented. For bars, if you constantly review gay bars or bars with dancefloors as opposed to country western bars or dive bars and sports bars where you just drink then it could maybe feed you similar bars when you are in a new city. If you mainly review restaurants that are kid friendly and are traveling it may show you kid friendly restaurants instead to help you find which are great for them. This could also be a bad thing though if you wanted a romantic dinner with your husband/wife and left the kids at home.

    This is just a thought which could be bad for SEOs but somewhat good for end users.

    Awesome post Lisa! I wonder when the window stickers for SMBs will be coming out lol.

    • @garydrinksd

      adam, you nailed #3. i think the “hotpotato game” concept is pretty interesting. i mean google doesn’t have a huge track record using game mechanics to incite specific behavior, but it seems to be built right into the hotpot product. i think part of the success of hotpot is tied to how effectively google can integrate this review game into the search experience.

  • @garydrinksd

    lisa, great post and awesome discussion in the comments.

    hotpot has got to be the most frictionless UI out of all the major review products out there. i think it could have the ability to generate reviews from the kinds of people that Yelp is not able to (like myself).

    if google a) promotes the hotbot service in universal/places/maps SERPs, & b) allows business owners to embed their hotbot box on their website, they’d have the potential to generate pretty substantial review volume. then once a google user starts seeing review snippets in the SERPs from people in their google social graph, this has the potential to grow even more and pose a major threat to Yelp.

    i agree that creating a separate profile and adding friends is the biggest detriment to the service’s growth. also, personally my google social graph is completely irrelevant for personalized recommendations. if only google & fb could play nice, it could be a killer product

  • David

    Google Places will force organic search results to be placed lower in search results. Yuk. Here is my take on Google Places.