It’s another year, which means the time has come for Google to take yet another shot at social. They added another one to the mix, and I got to hand it to Google, this one is… different.
Google is calling it +1 — yes, +1 is the name. It’s a new social feature that integrates into Google Search. Users can actually access it right now by activating it within Google’s experimental options. But if you’re in no hurry, it will eventually be rolled out to everyone in the future.
But what is +1, exactly?
Introducing Google +1
Well, the best way to introduce Google +1 is to start off with the button itself. It looks cool enough. I’m not sure if I like it more than Facebook’s Like button, but I doubt anyone will confuse it for something else. You click it. It does some magic. And that’s that.
No, really, that is what Google +1 is. It is a button. But what this button does is probably more dramatic than someone would imagine — it could fundamentally change how search results are presented to users, and it might also heavily influence online advertising. So, in that way, it is a pretty big deal.
But make no mistake about it: Google is taking the KISS principle to the extreme with +1.
+1 In Depth
How +1 is different from past attempts at social networking is that it places the emphasis entirely on Google Search. Whenever a piece of content is +1ed (I’m guessing that is what people will call it), people who are friends with you on Google Profiles, Buzz, and potentially other social networks like Twitter will see the 1+ed content from friends first if there is a relevant search query being processed.
For example, if a user +1ed this very article on a Google Search query, when one of those user’s friends searched for information about “Google +1,” this article would stand out on Google Search. At least, that is how I think it will work from what Google is telling everyone. I haven’t exactly had any +1s pop out at me on Google Search: it might be because I don’t use Google Search that much any more, because I don’t have that many friends on Google’s services (yet I probably have more than most people), or because I’m simply unlucky (I prefer the latter option). Either way, these are all significant problems (more on that later).
After the excitement of +1ing (yeah, this is doomed to sound weird in verbal form) a piece of content, that user’s Google Profile will also have this link displayed publicly to everyone who views their profile, if enabled on your Google Account settings. So the good news is that all of those +1s won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
However, the most interesting part of all this is that content publishers will be given access to a new, shiny, Web 2.0y button that represents the whole concept of +1. So, just as you see the Like, Retweet, Share, Digg, Reddit, Stumble, and other types of social-oriented buttons, publishers will be given something else to toss onto the bottom of an article.
In other words, all of this is mostly Google’s response to the Facebook Like button. But it isn’t really a good one.
+1 = Problems
The first issue is that, while many people are still searching for information, Google Search is not a social experience. Google Search is primarily a one-way street — you type in a search query, press enter, find what you want, and then go to it. Adding a button to the side of search results isn’t much of an improvement. There isn’t much in the way of communication or interaction involved.
So what is the incentive to press that +1 button on Google Search? I don’t know. First of all, once you visit a webpage, that +1 button goes away. If you hit the back button after visiting a webpage from a search query, that means the information you wanted was, in most cases, not on that website. However, if you do find the information you’re looking for, you probably won’t be hitting the back button just to go hunting for that +1 button, will you?
In case I didn’t make it clear — having +1 buttons beside Google Search results is pointless.
I think it is actually a bit counterintuitive. Why would someone +1 a piece of content from a search result? For example, if I search for “Bruce Willis” in Google Search, I’m going to +1 IMDb and +1 Wikipedia every single time. If I search “Techi,” I’m going to +1 Techi, not anything else. It doesn’t make any sense. It can only be useful if you are actually viewing the content, and if you are viewing the content, you will not be seeing the +1 button.
However, this is where the dedicated +1 button for publishers comes into play. It was a much better decision for Google to create this, and it should immediately take precedence in Google’s efforts with this whole experiment.
But even if every single publisher did display the +1 button on their websites — even to the point where every site displays it as often as the Facebook Like button — what good is it going to do? What is the point?
When I press that button, do I gain anything from it? No. Does anyone else gain anything from it? Maybe, but I won’t ever know. If I press a Retweet button, all of my followers see it. If I press a Facebook button, my friends can view it and comment on it. But what happens when I +1 a piece of content? Google Search engine gets a little bit smarter. Who cares about that?
All that Google needs to do to fix +1 is to ask themselves one single question: where is the social aspect to +1?