Google Expands Check-in Deals, Hotpot to Rival Facebook, Foursquare

Google is cranking up its mobile, social and local commerce engine by launching check-in deals across the country and tucking Hotpot into its Google Places local business service.

Google April 8 said it is launching its Latitude check-in deals across thousands of businesses across the United States, less than one month after testing them in local shops in Austin, Texas.

The search engine, with an eye on moving into mobile and social commerce predicated on location, also integrated its Hotpot recommendation engine directly into its Google Places local business product.

These moves will put Google into closer competition with Internet powers such as Groupon, Facebook and original check-in power Foursquare.

Google in February added check-in capabilities to its Latitude friend-finding application, copying a page from the playbooks of Foursquare, Facebook and others.

Google let users check-in to local shops from their iPhones or Android smartphones to notify friends where they are. Google also aped Foursquare's game mechanics, allowing users who check into a favorite place with frequency to earn Regular, VIP or Guru status on a Google Place page.

One month after that, Google borrowed another Foursquare move by launching check-in deals, encouraging attendees of the the South-by-Southwest Interactive show to check into any of 60 local shops to earn free coffee, ice cream and discounts.

Users must check-in to a store repeatedly to gain status. Businesses can make check-in offers available to users at each of their 3 status levels. To redeem an available check-in offer, users will select it from the business' Place page, tap redeem and show the full offer on your phone to a shop employee.

While the Regular, VIP or Guru statuses will remain in effect at places, Google is also letting partners such as American Eagle Outfitters, Quiznos and RadioShack customize their own status levels.

"For example, you can become a Champion of Taste at Quiznos or an AE Gold Shopper at American Eagle Outfitters, unlocking their check-in offers at the same time," said Douglas Gresham, a software engineer for the Google Maps for mobile team.

See a list of participating stores and their check-in discounts, most of which are restaurants, here.

Those who aren't already checking in may update the latest version of Google Maps for Android on their Android handset or download the Latitude app for iPhone.

In another part of Google's growing intersection of mobile, social and local services, Google has tucked Hotpot into its Places business services.

A sort of Yelp rival, Hotpot lets users rate and review places they know, add friends and receive personalized suggestions to try restaurants, bookstores and other shops based on user preferences.

Lior Ron, the product manager who built Hotpot, said millions of users are rating businesses more than one million times per month.

"Rolling Hotpot into Google Places helps simplify the connection between the places that are rated and reviewed and the more than 50 million places that already have an online presence through Google Places," Ron explained.

Ron also alluded to "big plans" to introduce more features to Google Places that make it easier to rate and review places.

What Google Maps and Latitude users are seeing is a concerted effort for Google to gradually integrate its passel of local product, search and commerce services into one cohesive offering.

In time, Google will launch its Offers local deals service more aggressively as a complement to the more minor check-in deals it just launched broadly in the United States. As Google's local product suite stands now, it competes with Foursquare, Facebook and other check-in deal providers.

But once Offers goes broader, Google will find itself butting heads with Groupon, the company it failed to acquire last year. That's when the fireworks will start, as the companies slug it out to win hearts and minds of local businesses and the consumers who frequent them.