During my backpacking trip across Europe, I constantly found myself running into a question that none of my four friends could answer — where should we eat? Though my memory is sharp enough to offer directions to the lone Burger King in Venice — just outside the east end of Piazza San Marco — I can’t pin-point one local restaurant. But this is where Google steps up to the plate.
Google’s local directory, Hotpot, which allows people to rate restaurants using a “flash-card” style interface and share those rankings with friends, has recently started to flex its culinary prowess in a digital realm that has been previously dominated by a similar service — Yelp.
Hotpot streamlined the menu of options and ratings. Hotpot, released in November, becomes an instant competitor in user reviews that Google integrates with search results.
Yelp, on the other hand, has been up in arms regarding Google running its users’ reviews but is unwilling to pull the plug on its relationship with Google because of referral traffic. Google has an ace up its sleeve already, just in case Yelp ever has a change of heart.
Hotpot’s crème de la crème feature is referring. Imagine walking around a town where every restaurant is serving up uncertainty and the potential to leave a bad taste in your mouth. Now, with Hotpot’s update and integration with Google Maps for Android last Thursday, users can tweet reviews and ratings of eateries right from the Maps app to alert friends of what’s hot and what’s not.
But Hotpot still needs some time in the digital “oven” until it’s ready for mass consumption. One way Google has been pushing the use of Hotpot is through mobile platforms.
The Google Places app is the first big step for Google in taking Hotpot from a hole-in-the-wall service to a five-star stud in social media. Recently, Google sat down with Mozart’s Coffee Roasters in Austin, Texas, and arranged an incentive for Places app users. On Saturday, if someone flashed their Android or iPhone app at the counter, they got a free drink in a limited edition Google travel mug.
This is just a taste of how Google Places with Hotpot can be implemented on a small scale.
Hotpot allows users to instantaneously connect with friends over similar tastes in restaurants and provide reviews and ratings.
It’s hard to tell if Hotpot has the right ingredients to avoid being Google’s next Wave or Buzz, but for the time being, everyone gets to enjoy a taste of what Hotpot is bringing to the table.
Andrew Weiser is a senior journalism major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.