The now ubiquitous “Like” button let’s Facebook friends share their preferences for things they find and enjoy online. Now Google has created a very similar social system called +1.
In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Amir Efrati writes that Google views Facebook as a major competitor in online advertising and one of the aims of its social-networking efforts is to obtain similar data about users, rather than continuing to rely on information about them that is inferred from their Web searches.
The new +1 system takes over after Google’s previous social site, Buzz, flopped due in a large part to the backlash that resulted when it made email address books visible to other people.
Like Facebook’s button, a +1 button will soon appear beside links in Google search results.By clicking the +1 button, people who have created a Google profile (very similar to Facebook profiles) will be able to recommend links to people in their Google network. For example, if someone in your Google network searches for “best restaurants in Minneapolis”, any results you’ve +1′d (yes, Google is trying to make this a verb), will be visible to them with your name attached. Conversely, any +1s they place will be seen by you during your searches. Paid ads can also be +1′d, as may non-paid organic ads in the near future. In addition, publishers will also soon be able to make their websites +1able.
People that don’t have a Google profile will also be able to click the +1 button, but their recommendations will be anonymous.
A Google social network will be made up of people in your Gmail & Google Talk chat list, people in your “My Contacts” group in Google Contacts and people you follow in Google Reader or Google Buzz. In the future, networks will also include people connected via non-Google services, such as Twitter, Flickr or Quora.
Unlike Facebook, however, which is a closed system, +1 also lets you see the number of recommendations from everyone, not just your friends.
For the time being, +1 popularity will not affect search rankings although pluses will be counted as one of the metrics Google eventually uses to determine organic rankings. When this happens, will marketers be able to game the system by running “check +1 to enter” promotions? It seems that Google frowns on this sort of thing, but it’s unclear whether the company expressly forbids it.
We may also see efforts to solicit +1s as we now do with Likes, e.g., “+1 us on Google and receive this benefit.” Unscrupulous companies could even pay vast roomfuls of people in third world countries pennies to +1 their ads/sites.
Which begs the question, does having more people plus something make it better? Or is it the opposite; does being better make something more likely to be plussed by more people?
Indeed, with the rise of content farms, some people have called for a -1 button to tell Google that a particular search result is extremely irrelevant or not useful and shouldn’t be included at all. Others contend that it’s impossible to know if a link is good until after you open it, and at that point who cares enough to go back and give that search result a recommendation?
Still others question the “social” aspect of the system. People log in to Facebook specifically for the social interaction, but that’s not why someone goes to Gmail or Google. Google computers provide information based on what’s statistically relevant. By contrast, Facebook highlights subjective information that people have handpicked as interesting.
According to Danny Sullivan, a leading expert on Google and a blogger at SearchEngineLand Google is trying to have the best of both worlds.
“It’s a killer combination if you put them both together, and I think that’s where Google’s big challenge will be in all of this,” Sullivan continues. “They don’t still seem to get the whole social aspect of things. They don’t have any expertise in building these hugely successful social products. Facebook does.”
Still, as the most popular search engine in the world with earnings of $30 billion a year, Google has enormous resources to work with which is a huge plus in their favor. If I were Mr. Zuckerberg, I wouldn’t get too comfortable.