Google Hotpot represents the search engine’s latest attempt to mix search with social networking. If you’re looking for new places to try, and you have a lot of friends online, it could help you make some new discoveries. Let’s take a look at how it works.
Google Hotpot is tied into Google Places. If you want to use it, it helps if you have a Google profile (but it doesn’t need to be public). You definitely need a Google account, which you already have if you have Gmail. You can get to Hotpot by following the link.
Once you’re signed in, Hotpot gives you a public nickname, just as a way to help keep track of your reviews; you can change it if you want. Click through the opening screen, and you get a page with a search box at the top, with the word “restaurant” already entered. I performed the search, and was greeted by restaurants in my local area, which I was asked to rate.
These restaurants were not listed in the usual way you see search results listed. They appeared in rectangular boxes, about three and a half inches long and two inches wide on my laptop’s screen. At the top of each listing, you can click a star that says “Save for later,” which will presumably let you rate it later, or an X that says “Not interested,” which will presumably remove it from the listing.
Below these two options you’ll find the name of the restaurant, with a link. The link takes you to the Google Maps listing of the place. If you’ve never seen one of these (and if you haven’t, what rock have you been living under?), it includes the address, phone number, fax number, a map that shows how to get there, a list of categories for the place, its specialties, reviews from around the web, reviews from Google users, and a whole lot more. If you like to do research on a company before you patronize them, it’s not a bad place to start.
But back to the Hotpot listing. Below the name of the restaurant, you’ll usually find a picture (sometimes they’re “camera shy”) of either the exterior of the restaurant or a sample dish. Below this image you’ll find some indication of where the restaurant is located; this can be either the town name or something more specific, like the intersection. Below that, you’ll find a brief description of the cuisine, such as “Traditional American” or “Ribs.” That latter was applied to a local Outback Steakhouse, though, so it’s not always perfect.