Fewer Google Web services have seen such an acceleration of innovation as Google’s local search strategy, and the company continued that trend through the week of February.
Google took its Hotpot local recommendation engine global, offering it in 38 new languages and melding it in the regular search results on Google.com, and added check-ins to its Google Latitude friend-finding app.
Those two actions appear on the surface as two separate software developments, but they are tied together by common threads: Google Maps and the company’s desire to expand its purview in local search.
Hotpot rolled out as a feature for its Google Places local listings service on Google Maps in November, but expanded to its own Website to let users rate restaurants, hotels, cafes and other businesses, and add friends.
When users perform new searches, Google will serve up personalized results, listing places based on tastes and friend recommendations. The idea is to boost relevance of local search results as people search from their desktop at home or mobile phone on-the-go.
Google has been steadily increasing the access points for Hotpot, from Google Places to the Hotpot Website, Google Maps, a Maps for Android widget and from the iPhone.
Now users logged into their Google account can see Hotpot recommendations in their regular search results on Google.com. So a user looking for a restaurant in, say New York City, will see Hotpot recommendations from friends as well as their name and photo directly beneath that restaurant’s listing.
Users can also see all recommendations by your friends by clicking Places on the left-hand side of the page, and choosing the Friends only button.
Formerly available only in English, Hotpot is available in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Korean, Polish, Russian and Spanish, among other lanugages.
Google Hotpot, Latitude, Offers Encompass Local Strategy
Google positions Hotpot as a fine local search tool for consumers, but the door swings both ways. Businesses that participate in the Google Places local business boosting program will also benefit from the user recommendations, provided enough people make recommendations in an area where the business serves.
Google provided an example of how it can take to the city streets with Hotpot in Portland, Ore., where it has become a local favorite among several businesses, according to the Hotpot blog. The company will need to port this experiment to additional cities to stimulate interest.
Google this past week also added a check-in feature for Latitude, which eWEEK covered here.
While this is a feature that seems two years too late for users of Foursquare, Gowalla and other services, it’s important to note that, like Hotpot, Latitude leverages Google Maps, but adds a social component to help users connect at local businesses while on-the-go.
Say two Latitude-using friends are wandering the same city neighborhood bar circuit. One can check-in at a local pub, and when his friend sees he’s there, he can walk on over.
Google is also testing its Google Offers local deals service, which allows local businesses to connect with consumers by offering them coupons and discounts that entice them to shop there.
So offers local recommendations via Hotpot, enables local friend connections with Latitude and is offering local deals to consumers.
Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling summed Google’s strategy up best when he noted:
“We can now see how Google is starting to leverage its massive local infrastructure across products. Each product or service is a doorway into others and helps reinforce usage of the overall system.”
However, Google must do a much better job marketing the service, as in putting the feet to the street. Starting in Portland at the grassroots level is great, but one could argue the majority of its 6,200 planned new hires for 2011 should be in local sales and not engineering.