Yesterday, Google launched its +1 button, an attempt to make search more social by using your friend’s recommendations to influence and enhance search results. At a basic level, the +1 button allows you to ‘+1′ information available on the web, indicating that you have found it useful in some way and that you recommend it to others.
How much this will affect search results remains to be seen. I must admit to being vaguely sceptical about its effectiveness. After all, there are billions of pages on the web and the chances of your friends +1′ing the same information you then discover via a search seems a little small. Of course, this is a slight simplification, +1 results will be also be used to give context to the popularity of a page – a more human Google PageRank. But then this is no longer your friend’s recommendation, but the wisdom of the crowds. Will it have the same effect? Possibly not.
Google +1 might be likened to the Facebook ‘Like’button; on the surface it seems to perform the same function. But, no, it’s not the same. And the reasons why provide illumination on the challenges that Google faces.
I’m sure most of us are familiar with the phrase ‘go where the fishes are’. On the whole, our friends don’t exist in Google, they exist in Facebook. Where as Facebook is a destination, Google is the map. Clicking a Facebook ‘Like’ button shares your preferences with a captive audience in a central place, encouraging comments, and building conversations and engagement. +1′ing a page puts your preferences out in the ether, waiting to be discovered. Oh, and only if you have a ‘standard’ Google account; Google Apps users, you’ll just have to wait until Google Profiles works with Google Apps. For all the traffic and advertising revenue Google generates, it doesn’t have the close relationship with its audience that Facebook does, and in the end it may cost them dear.
Google’s ex-CEO, Eric Schmidt, admitted on stage at All Things Digital’s conference that Google had failed on social:
[Schmidt] repeatedly fell on his sword about missing the social/ identity revolution. He said four years ago he wrote memos about it, but did nothing about the memos he wrote. “I clearly knew I had to do something and I failed to do it,” he said. When asked why he responeded he was “busy, but the CEO should take responsibility and I screwed up.”
+1 is part of the long journey back towards social for Google, but the question has to be: ‘Is too little too late?’