Google just launched Hotpot, a recommendation engine for places. It’s interface is neat, and adding your own reviews is an easy and a fun process. As expected from Google, navigating via search is very easy and efficient, a much smoother experience than Yelp‘s one. However, Yelp does a better job thus far in surfacing the top-ranked places.
Google managed to pre-populate their places database with lots of review data scraped and aggregated from 3rd party sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor (who is still looking at TripAdvisor as a trustworthy source of information? It’s such a crappy website) . While initially that may lead to traffic to these websites, in the long term it undermines their business model as clearly Google wants to own the review data themselves. This trend can be seen already in Google Maps local searches, and Google has of course the unfair advantage of being the search engine and the content provider. As such, it has to be careful not to go too far with that practice, as antitrust issues will start looming over their head (Google is already taking steps to make sure there is quiet on the antitrust front; it’s lobbying budget was up 11 percent to $1.2M in Q3 2010 – dining and wining in Washington DC got more expensive since the recession, or maybe its the soaring seafood prices since the BP oil spill).
Anyhow, it’s an interesting Google product that will get much better as they ‘clean’ their data over time. The only thing missing BIG TIME is the ability to see which places my friends have rated. And no, adding friend from my Gmail contact list is not the right way to do so. My social graph is owned by that college kid from the Hollywood movie The Social Network. No, not Justin Timberlake, they other guy, the one who wasn’t smoking the bong. With so many Googlers working in Facebook, you would think they’ll find a way to bridge the social graph issues in less childish ways.