Google Hotpot, the restaurant review system that looks like a game of flashcards, is now pushing recommendations to Google Maps search results pages for participants. A new Google Places app with Hotpot included just hit the iPhone app store, too.
Hotpot launched in November and looks firmly aimed at undercutting Yelp. The user experience in Hotpot on the desktop and new iPhone app are both quite good. Now you can use Hotpot on your phone to rate the Hotpot in your belly, if you're lucky enough to find a good Hotpot restaurant nearby. If you're my friend on the service, you'll see that I just recommended one.
As ReadWriteWeb's Audrey Waters explained when Hotpot launched, "The aim of Hotpot is to make local recommendations more personal and relevant, by recommending places based on your ratings and the ratings of your friends."
"By moving the recommendation and review process 'in house,' so to speak, by being able to provide an algorithm to recommend sites based on preferences, not merely location, and most importantly perhaps, by integrating these recommendations with mobile, Maps and Search, Google's Hotpot may be a 'killer' location-based app. Sorry, Yelp."
That said, Hotpot isn't all things to all people yet. There's no feed of recent nearby reviews like there is on Yelp. There aren't beautiful food photos like there are on Foodspotting. The recommendations seem a little crude. Hotpot is clearly an early product, but in that context it's quite good.
Google hopes that its new Near Field Communication (NFC) window stickers for restaurants and NFC enabled Android OS mobile phones will lead to more reviews of restaurants and more data to base recommendations on. This new mobile app dedicated to Places will probably make a bigger difference in the short term.
Incidentally, if you've never eaten at a Hotpot restaurant, I just did for the first time this weekend and it was great. You go through a buffet to pick up meat and veggies, then sit down at a personal bowl of savory soup with a flame underneath it. You put the food into the soup to cook, then take it out with chopsticks and eat it. Very nice.
Whether that sounds good to you or not, Google's Hotpot will now turn your expressed tastes into restaurant recommendations in the sidebar of your Maps searches and on this nice new iPhone app. It's pretty cool.
It would be great to see this product develop all the more and really push the envelope. Most Google services feel like they come up short of that, though, probably in an effort to reach as many users of different levels of sophistication as possible.