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Google Brings RFID-enabled Hotpot to Portland, Austin

The projects allow businesses to use Near Field Communication RFID technology to provide data about their services and products to customers on the street carrying NFC-enabled phones.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 23, 2011As part of an effort to attract more local searches from consumers using its search engine, Google has been testing an RFID-enabled service aiming to link local businesses with customers. The service, known as Hotpot debuted in November. Since then, the company has launched a pair of pilot projects—the first one in Portland, Ore., the second in Austin, Texas—that include Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID technology as a tool to connect consumers with businesses.

Hotpot is an adjunct to Google's Place Pages—a service Google that launched in September 2009 and that features Web pages that the search engine's users can access to find information about a business' hours of operation, photos, videos, coupons, as well as customer ratings and reviews. The Web link for a company's Place Page appears whenever the company's name turns in the a Google search results page. Google creates the initial Place Page that appears for every company, but each individual business owner is free to edit and update the information that appears on his or her company's Place Page. For example, the Place Page service allows the business to verify Google search and maps information, and lets it to respond to reviews. If a store wishes to add marketing promotions, such as a coupon or special offer, it can do so at no charge. For a fee to Google, companies can also advertise via Google Tags, a program that enables businesses to highlight the important features of their business with a small yellow tag, and Google Boost—an advertising service.

Google's Jeff Aguero
In November, Google launched Hotpot, which—in an instructional YouTube video—Matt Balez, one of the company's product managers, describes as a "local recommendation engine for Google Places, powered by you and your friends. You tell us the places you like—restaurants, cafes, book shops—and we'll recommend new places to you the next time you search."

The Hotpot program is part of an effort to bring Google to the smaller businesses in local areas, helping them address their potential customers through Google marketing programs that have a local focus. To deliver Place Pages information to consumers on the sidewalk, as they are making decisions about whether to enter a particular store, Google is experimenting with NFC RFID technology, which involves short-range passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags.

The RFID-enabled system features an NFC tag embedded in a sticker that attaches to the front of a store and is encoded with ID number that instructs an NFC-enabled phone to display the appropriate Place Page for that business. Google, says Jeff Aguero, a product marketing manager for Hotpot, foresees that as more consumers have NFC-enabled phones that can talk to the tags, users will increasingly be able to tap such a phone against a tag on a business' door or window, and thereby access information about that establishment before determining whether to enter or, in the case of a restaurant, make dinner reservations. Users can then also share their own recommendations with friends and family and add ratings or reviews to the business' Place Page, prompting the search engine to tailor its future results for that user, based on his or her ratings.

The RFID-enabled initiative began in Portland in December 2010, with about 250 businesses using the tags. Google also made an effort to bolster the personal approach, with members of its staff attending a Portland Trail Blazers basketball game to hand out T-shirts with Google and Trail Blazers logos.

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