Monday, November 22, 2010 | 3:55 PM
No, not another story about gourmet food at Google. But "lunch is on Google" is what we told people we invited into our usability lab in New York some months back. The deal: We'll give you $50 to spend in a restaurant you haven't been to before. The catch: Make the pick in our lab while we observe you using any website or online tool you wish.
At Google we are always keen to understand how people search, so we can find new ways to make their lives easier. Sometimes we do this by interviewing users, sometimes through field research or surveys. And sometimes we just try out something new. This is how the idea for the "free lunch research method" came about.
People used a variety of sources and strategies to find their new restaurant pick, but one aspect was strikingly consistent: choosing restaurants involves other people in many ways, whether it's consulting with a friend, reading a review, or agreeing on a place to meet.
Once in the lab, some people began their search by looking up a place a friend mentioned, a new pub they'd read about, or a gleaming bistro they walked past on their commute. Others began more broadly, but places they recognized still caught their attention more than others as they looked through results. Finally, and most instructively for us, many didn't want to make a final choice during the allotted 15 minutes — they absolutely needed to check with their partner or a foodie friend first!
We believe Hotpot helps find places tailored to you in a number of ways. First, places your friends like will rank higher in your search results. Since a friend's review matters more than a stranger's, we'll highlight what your friends had to say if they reviewed a place. Lastly, Hotpot calculates recommendations based on what you like — so you can even find a perfect place in a new location.
We're constantly improving our recommendation engine, so the Hotpot launch last week is just the beginning. In the meantime, invite your friends to share their favorite spots with you on Hotpot to truly make your search experience the best it can be. Who knows, maybe we'll invite you and your friends for a free lunch one day.
Sign up at http://google.com/usability if you're interested in taking part in Google user research.