Hotpot is a location-based service (LBS) with a social element. Yes, the rollout is being done with care and deliberation, but it seems that Google is finally going social!
Hotpot offers Google account holders the opportunity to give 1 – 5 star ratings and prose recommendations to businesses, presumably local, often smaller businesses.
Google can only access data that the user chooses to disclose, usually from other social networking services. The primary emphasis of Hotpot is dining establishments, although other business types seem to be included too. These are linked to the physical location of the business, as denoted on Google Maps.
Hotpot is “social” because users are encouraged to invite friends and contacts to take part in Hotpot. Of course, contacts with Gmail accounts can be invited very easily. I’m working on my Gmail friend invitations now. I’m not certain whether it is possible to take part without a Gmail account.
Hotpot users may use Hotpot with Google Maps for Mobile, or directly on the web. I tried Hotpot from the web. It worked very well. I was using Google’s Chrome browser, which probably helped my user experience. I have not tried Hotpot from any other browser.
Google is promoting Place listings for businesses at the same time as Hotpot. I’ve seen more than a few service screens e.g. for Gmail account login, with promotional images for Places and Hotpot. The product introduction page implies that Hotpot is a feature of Places, not Maps, as the heading is Google Places with Hotpot.
Hotpot appears to be a full-fledged Google product, unlike Google Tags. There is already an official Google Hotpot Blog for users to keep up with the latest news. There are similar user support issues, specifically a lack of Google representatives, which is common for many (free) Google products. I observed this in the Google Help Forums the day after Hotpot debuted.
Potential branding confusion?
Hotpot is an extremely cute idea. The giant red Google map marker is very endearing. However, I already foresee branding complications. I did a very casual scan of the Twitter-verse, and noted that at least half of the uniformly enthusiastic tweets were incorrectly referring to the new product as “HotSpot” instead of Hotpot. The Official Google Canada Twitter account was one of them.
I actually prefer Google’s brand name choice of Hotpot. Yet it would probably be more semantically intuitive to name it “HotSpot” given the linkage with physical location. The food-related tie-in of Hotpot, is logical. Yet “HotSpot” is a stronger complement for Places on Google Maps. Perhaps Google has a compelling promotion which will overcome this issue. At such an early stage of the product’s introduction, it is too soon to decide whether this will be of any importance.
November 29, 2010: TechCrunch just published an article a few minutes ago. According to TechCrunch, this is how Google explains the Hotpot name:
It’s about community!