By Jared Newman | Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 11:28 am
For a while, Google’s been morphing its local business directory into a Yelp rival, but Google Hotpot is the most obvious offensive yet.
The big problem with Google’s local results, up until now, is their reliance on reviews from other Websites. Sure, Google has its own ratings and reviews, but for any given business, links to Yelp, UrbanSpoon and other sites are more prominent. And rightfully so; those sites have far more user participation than Google does on its own.
Hotpot is an attempt to build Google’s review database a lot faster, while also making it more social.
When you plug a location and the thing you’re looking for into the search bar, it delivers a big grid of results, with thumbnail images and user ratings. You can save places for later review, cross them off the list or add a rating yourself. When you rate a place, a little text box flips open, encouraging you briefly describe what you liked or disliked. The review and discovery system is quick and simple, which will go a long way towards encouraging people to participate.
Hotpot also ties in to Google’s new Place Search, which senses when you’re looking for local businesses and prominently lists them atop search results. Based on your preferences recommendations from friends — added manually by e-mail address — Google suggests related businesses. Ratings and recommendations are also available from Mobile maps on Android.
Hotpot isn’t perfect. When you click on a business, the Place page that loads feels like a completely different website. Google needs to bring more data directly into Hotpot to make it feel like a complete service. I’m also still missing the granular information Yelp provides — little things like whether the place has delivery or accepts credit cards. Clearly, Hotpot has a long way to go.
But between more prominent search placement and a new website to encourage user participation, Google is well on its way. If I ran Yelp, I’d be a little nervous.