Google Hotpot LogoIn case you missed it, Google launched its newest venture, an extension to Google Places: HotPot. Not to be confused with the term given to a style of cooking, Hotpot just went live officially late last week, but chances are you’ve seen some of the promotion long before now. Starting November 15th in Portland, Oregon, Google began allowing businesses to order free business kits, which included a bright red “Recommended on Google” window sticker that has Near Field Communications (NFC) technology built right in, allowing people with advanced smartphones like the Nexus S to simply touch their phones to the sticker to find out more information about the business. The question now remains, could HotPot put other local review sites and applications like Yelp, CitySearch and Foursquare out of business? Let’s not forget Gowalla and hundreds of other similar business review destinations.

Judging from HotPot’s user video, it looks like they’re betting on the the social networking aspect to be the key to domination in local and mobile search.

That seems a little risky (remember how big a failure Buzz was? They’d prefer you didn’t). Basically, it works like this: you rate a new local restaurant, or maybe a mechanic. The ratings show up on local searches, but you can also add friends – if you have a gmail account, the list will populate automatically for you, so all you have to do is select which friends you want to follow. You can then see where your friends like to eat, who they trust to color their hair, etc.

In effect, it’s trying to fill in the holes left by Yelp and others. HotPot seeks to cover a lot of ground without going into too much depth about any given business, whereas Yelp and Citysearch are known for the detailed, thoughtout and – perhaps most importantly – screen reviews.

Seems like a decent theory, right? Merging a local engine with social networking seems like a pretty perfect combination. After all, how much more weight to you place on a recommendation from a friend, versus a stranger? But David Mihm brings up a valid point in his write-up of HotPot:

A friend of mine may have very different taste from mine. And therefore, his recommendations would mean, at best, nothing to me. At worst, a place that got his vote of approval would be one that I avoid.

It could go either way with HotPot. On one hand, its had a very aggressive marketing campaign (especially in Portland, OR – any local readers are encouraged to tell us what you thought of it!) with less-than-stellar results.

Mihm snapped a photo of a kiosk in an airport…which didn’t receive much attention from passersby. Yet it does have the ease of use for which Google is known, particularly with the apps for Nexus, Android and iPhone. Everything is in place to make it as inviting as possible. And If successful, this could be another big change in the world of local, and yet another conquest for Google. In this video, you’ll learn just how powerful the on-location technology is, and possibly how passé Yelp and Foursquare may have just become:

Privacy Implications

For many of us, you’re so hot on the new technology and the marketing potential, that you’re more interested in how to get a business kit then this boring section on how the service affects your privacy. Google probably stores more information about you then any other online company, particularly those of us who use services such as Google Voice, Gmail, Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Google Checkout, Google Places, and Google Docs (where do you store and share your business login information?). Add Google Hotpot to the mix, or Latitude if you’ve had the service active in the past, and now Google hears and reads your conversations, crawls your documents, knows your web traffic data, and knows where you are in near real-time.

Of course, it’s unrealistic to imagine that Google would actually formulate an algorithm (or allow the government to) specifically create inferences about your intentions or persona. That would be something from The Minority Report, which was just a movie, right?

Scan This Into Your NFC App

Whatever you decide to do will affect your ability to remain competitive online. Google retains a very high market share in search (66% and growing). That’s enough to make us yelp with anxiety. Pun definitely intended.