Google Challenges Yelp with Hotpot

Google has released Hotpot, its new recommendations engine that lets you search and rate businesses you’ve patronized. Hotpot is also smart: it collects data on your frequent reviews, then uses that information to give you more targeted recommendations in future searches. Google also integrated a social aspect to Hotpot, which lets you friend your fellow reviewers the same way you can on Yelp.

The user interface is slick. You first search a category of service via a simple search field, for example “restaurants Boulder CO.” Hotpot then presents you with a table of images that link to businesses that match your search query.

Click on one of the image links, and Google takes you to a detailed description of the service, with a map and driving directions accessible at the top. In terms of mapping, which includes a social component, Google may be challenging Foursquare, too.

When you navigate down the page, the business description includes featured quotes from sites like Open Table and TripAdvisor, restaurant images from sites including Urban Spoon, and a collection of ratings from various sites, including Yelp and CitySearch, as well as Google user ratings. At the bottom of the page, you get a list of related businesses in your city and their ratings, as well as Google search results describing your business.

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All in all, it’s a complete, intuitive, and pleasing interface. UI-wise, I actually prefer it to Yelp, and I really like Yelp. But I also have friends on Yelp, and Yelp has an edgy social aspect that draws me in.

The biggest potential problem with Hotspot is that users won’t be motivated to migrate to it from their established review sites. If so, Hotspot won’t develop the kind of social traction that would really make it fun for users as well as give Google a lick of the social market, which it’s been unsuccessfully seeking since the days of Wave.