Google Hotpot, the Yelp-like local recommendations service, has just introduced a new feature: filtered searches by friend. The way it works is this: when you search for a particular type of business on Hotpot, say "Italian restaurants," for example, you can click on a friend's name beside his recommendation in the search results to see all the Italian restaurants that friend has rated and reviewed, and see them plotted on a map.
The feature is also available now on Android phones, says Google.
On Android, there isn't enough room to display the listings on a map to the side of the returned list of recommendations, so you would have to click the "map" button instead to see them in a map layout.
Not Seeing It? Maybe You Have No Friends
If you're not seeing this on your Android phone yet, (and I'll admit, I wasn't at first), it could be because you have no friends. Well, no Hotpot friends that is. Even if you have a Google profile set up, or use Gmail and Google Contacts, even if you have taken the time to organize your friends into groups such as "Family," "Friends," "Work," etc., Google has not automatically added any of those people to your Hotpot friends list. You have to manually add people one-by-one.
To add friends, go to Hotpot's "Friends" section where you can scroll through your contact list or type in a friends' name or email address in the box provided. Doing so will auto-suggest entries from your address book, but it's not exactly the same as a search feature. (It's odd to me all the places where the world's number one search engine forgets to provide a true search feature in its products). Anyone you add will then be emailed an invite to join Hotpot.
I decided to not invite anyone to Hotpot, because I'm hesitant to spam friends and family with emails about new services. As a tech blogger, if I invited people to all the services I tried, I'm sure all emails from me would have soon been marked as spam. I wish you could just add friends, and then if they happened to sign up for Hotpot on their own, they would be prompted to accept your request. But I don't live in a dream world. That's not how things work.
Luckily, a few of my Internet buddies have added me to Hotpot already, so I could at least test out some of this new functionality. If I'm ever in the U.K. or San Francisco, I guess I'll know where to eat. Thanks, guys!
Photo of Hotpot, via Google blog post
Incremental Updates Could Make Hotpot Better, Quickly
Google Hotpot is clearly encroaching on Yelp's territory, and ramping up quickly. Even without a friend list in tow, I've been using Hotpot's recommendations via Maps on Android as well as Places, the standalone Android app that just shows restaurants, bars, attractions, gas stations, coffee shops, hotels and ATMs, plus any other search term you care to add. (Places recently came to the iPhone too, but as you may know, I've moved to the Nexus S for now.)
While the standalone app is great, Yelp works well as a standalone app, too. What will make people choose Hotpot? Integration with Google Maps, of course - Hotpot's killer feature. The Maps app is one of the most heavily used apps on Android (or any smartphone for that matter), and Google just launched a local recommendations service right within Maps itself. I'm betting that will work out well for Google, what do you think?