If you want to know what’s going on at Google, sometimes you need look no further than Google’s own staff. While many companies stay hushed about everything but positive PR opportunities, Google representatives have developed a reputation for honesty. One example of this recently was the statement from Marissa Mayer, Google’s VP of Consumer Products and head of the local search time, that Google “hasn’t done social right yet.”
In the interview where those statements were made, Mayer emphasized the importance of social to Google, stating :
“We ultimately know we need to get social right. If you think about the Web, there are four key platforms: search, video, mobile, and social. Google has done really well in three of those four — and we haven’t gotten social right yet.”
“We do need the context of who your friends are and who you know,” states Mayer, pointing to one of the flaws that led to Buzz’s downfall.
Buzz made it too simple to be found by a variety of contacts who were far from being friends, and gave no incentive to track down or create actual connections; deprived of a profile and lacking in creative extras, Buzz served as a watered-down knockoff of Twitter. Luckily for Google, there’s a new service that will change Google’s social presence.
How Hotpot Will Change Social and More
That product is Google Hotpot, the evolution of Google Places that adds a number of key social features. This product seemed at first glance to be little more than a revamped interface for location ratings, but those paying attention — especially to the updates in the last two months — have seen a strong social trend.
In January alone, the following key features were added:
- A “friends” feature. Added January 6th, this obvious social move will allow Google to see how users connect, who they want to associate with, and more.
- The addition of a “highlight” on Google Maps for locations rated highly by Hotpot friends. (Added January 11th.)
- A stream of recent ratings from Hotpot friends. (Added January 19th.)
- The addition of profile pictures to your Hotpot profile. (Added January 26th.)
This certainly isn’t to say that “Hotpot is a social network.” Rather, it’s a local service with key social elements that will lay the groundwork for all other social features Google creates. Additionally, Hotpot’s very nature makes it Google’s strongest platform for connecting users and local business owners — and, more importantly, create advertising revenue with local, brick-and-mortar businesses.
Google’s Hotpot Push
Don’t think that Hotpot’s important? Well, even if it winds up fading like other Google experiments, it’s clear that the service is one that Google cares deeply about. More than any other product since Gmail — and perhaps exceeding even that — Google has given Hotpot a publicity push.
Since the launch of Hotpot back in November, Google has pushed the service on a variety of platforms, including one that Google rarely touches: the real world. Google took to the streets of Portland, Oregon, for one of the more impressive offline marketing efforts from any recent company. Beyond running a competition with tens of thousands of dollars in prizes, Google also gave away t-shirts to the entire audience of a Trail Blazers game, gave away free coffee and merchandise at Voodoo Coffee, provided business owners with care packages that included the coolest stickers ever, and more. Google isn’t restricted to just Portland, either. A San Francisco event was also held, and more are anticipated.
Google has also spread across the world, into the search engines, and onto the mobile platform. It began with Google Maps for Mobile, whose December 22nd update added, with ninja-like stealth, a Hotpot widget for all Android users; this pairs beautifully with the Latitude updates that make Google’s location app far more competitive with industry leader 4Square and Facebook Places, and puts the Latitude/Hotpot pair in a strong local search position. Then Google spread to a global scale, localizing to 38 different languages at the beginning of February. Most importantly, however, was the integration of Hotpot with Google’s most important property: their search engine results page.
Where Google’s Social and Local Will Go from Here
While representatives like Mayer may be honest, that doesn’t mean Google is transparent with its upcoming actions. I’ve found over the past few years of monitoring Google, that the company would rather sit back and learn from the challenges their competition faces than jump into a competitive market headfirst.
- Take GMail for example. Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and other services had been around forever before Google figured out how to deconstruct the moneitized webmail service, add competitive advantages in mail search and mail storage, then launched GMail to change the market entirely. And GMail was the conduit into Apps, Docs and even GTalk.
- Yahoo Local was ahead of the local game for a very long time, then Yelp … and although Google tried entering local as an aggregate of brick & mortar data, this never really gave them the competitive advantage. By integrating Google Places & Hotpot into Droid, GPS, location targeted information display and other new technologies, Google is not only getting the jump on Yahoo Local and eventually Yelp … but also setting the stage to take on Facebook Places & Foursquare as well.
- Google & Groupon? … read on
Google’s attempt to purchase the daily deal company Groupon, despite the six billion dollar price tag, shows the company’s commitment to this line of thinking.
There’s little confirmed on whether Google will be buying another group or continuing building out the leaked Google Offers from scratch, but we do know that Google has started making phone calls to sell local business owners special “coupon advertisements” which display on Google Maps, Hotpot, and more. Further, “click-to-call” and other locally-oriented features from Adwords are improving success in this crucial division of advertising.
Groupon is being hit not only by Living Social right now, but in almost every direction and vertical offerings are popping up all over the web.
Thinking beyond the local, there’s no doubt that Google will be trying to breach into the social scene once again. While the upcoming social network has many rumored names, including GoogleMe and Google+1, the existence of the project is certain. All we don’t know is the release date — but stay tuned to Google I/O for a potential announcement of a 2011 release.
Google’s next social attempt will have a strong advantage thanks to Hotpot. With connections to local advertising, the primary ad source seeing success in networks like Facebook will already be “hooked in.” Additionally, those using Hotpot will already have an established profile and group of friends, making the transition to the social side of Google both painless and instantaneous.
Have you tried the Google Hotpot experience? How do you think it will compete with Foursquare, Groupon or Yelp? Please share your thoughts in the comments below and be sure to check out our Facebook Page.