Google Hotpot: Social Layers Or Reinforced Box?

November 16, 2010
By Lisa Barone in Social Media

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?

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