Get A Little Bling At HotOrNot

San Francisco based HotOrNot, a popular online dating site which has broken most of the de-facto rules of running a silicon valley startup, is shaking things up again.

For the last several months they’ve been testing a new service called Hotlists, which lets users add a little brand bling to their profile and build out their identity through association. Co-founder James Hong writes about the new product on his blog today. I interviewed Hong last week in anticipation of this post – hear the podcast over on TalkCrunch.

HotOrNot users have been able to add descriptive tags to their profiles for years (well before “tags” were made popular by sites like Technorati and Flickr). But Hong and co-founder Jim Young wanted to let people add a visual “tag” too, and even let social networks pop up around these tags.

So they added quietly added “Hotlists” earlier this year, letting users add a brands, people, things, whatever to their profile along with a visual cue. Already, a significant portion of HotOrNot’s users have added things to their HotList, even though the site has not promoted the feature at all. People just see it on other profiles, then add it to their own, too.

The profile above shows Hong’s Hotlist, which includes brands like Sprint, Nike and Apple, as well as the band Snow Patrol and others. Users can add anything at all to their Hotlist – if it doesn’t exist there is a simple process for creating it, adding an image and descriptive keywords. All users who then add it to their profile are linked in the service, and there is a dedicated page for each item that shows all users who’ve added it and lets people leave comments.

The purpose of Hotlists, says Hong, are to bring people together who have similar interests, something the site has done a very good job at over the years (up to ten marriages per day occur between people who’ve met on the service). But it also happens to be a brilliant business strategy, too.

Hotlists tell HotOrNot exactly what brands, bands, movies, TV shows and other cultural trends their users like. HotOrNot will learn over time to spot new trends (the hot new bands, for example), as they begin to rise in popularity in the Hotlists. And they will be able to market stuff to their users with a previously unheard of degree of precision.

This is a rare example of a new feature that strongly appeals to users (the adoption rate speaks for itself), and is also great for business. The more things people add to their Hotlist, the more information HotOrNot has about them. And over time they’ll be able to make money, I suspect, from that information.