Sunday, April 10, 2011

-1 For Google +1: Another Google Social Misfire

I know it. You know it. There are people living in caves in remote deserts who know it. Google desperately wants a piece of the social pie. The winner of the Web 1.0 era continues to rock at 1.0 things (like search and advertising), but other than YouTube, Google hasn't been present in significant ways in the Web 2.0 world.

Someday, Google will be a major player in social discovery (watch the growth of the Android platform and keep in mind the idea of "serendipitous search" shared by Google Executive Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt), but just like Wave, Google's "+1 button" is a step in the wrong direction.

There are many reasons the +1 button will not revolutionize the world. First, we already have widely adopted mechanisms for sharing Web content we like, such as Facebook "Likes," Tweets, and social bookmarking sites like Delicious. When we use these sharing tools, it makes our shares visible to many others, launches them into vibrant communities and creates dialog. What will clicking +1 do?  Less than that (at least into the foreseeable future). Given there are so many popular ways to share Web content that are already being used by the masses, there is no reason to believe Google's new button will be adopted by large numbers of people.

Secondly, until and unless +1 starts being embedded into sites across the Web, Google's +1 process is awkward and difficult. Consider how it would work: Users would see search results in Google's SERP (search engine results page), click something, navigate to a new page, enjoy the content, and then return to Google to click the +1 button next to those search results. How many of you would take the time to return to Google to click a +1 button?

Because that process is kludgey, the future of Google +1 depends not on people clicking buttons on Google's SERPs but on Google convincing site owners to embed +1 buttons throughout the Web. And why would they?  Google +1 will surely begin to appear in the list of options provided by sharing widgets like AddThis (although so far they aren't jumping on the bandwagon), but success for Google's new button absolutely requires it to be front and center, like Twitter and Facebook are on so many Web pages. For that to happen, Web site operators will need to see great benefits to outweigh the loss of screen real estate and cluttering their UI with yet another third-party logo. Unless and until Google can demonstrate mass adoption, web site owners are not likely to implement Google's new button.

Ultimately, my biggest concern is this: Does the +1 button create value for users in Google's fundamental offering--its search product?  After all, as Jeremiah Owyang points out to Google Watch, "Google solved the question of how to find info. Facebook solved the question of how we navigate the world. It's a different question."

The idea of socializing search is appealing to Google and others, but it is like "crossing the streams."  When I'm searching (as opposed to when I'm spending time with Facebook or Twitter), I want Google to surface information that is the most useful, not things other find "pretty cool" (as is stated in the very first sentence on Google's own +1 button page). And Google already has a way to know what you and I find most useful--our actual Web behaviors.

Put another way, what is the difference between the things you find useful and the things you think are "pretty cool"?  And which is more relevant to others when they are searching for specific information?  If someone wants or needs information on the Ford Mustang, Ford's own site is useful--it has specs, pictures and product features--but this movie scene of Steve McQueen chasing bad guys in his '68 Ford Mustang G.T.390 Fastback is cool. You are more likely to click the latter link now, but when searching for information on the Ford Mustang, you'll want the former link to be front and center on the SERP.

I vote -1 for Google's +1 button. It seems a distraction from Google's ultimate goal of serendipitous search. Then again, if I was a Google employee and 25% of my 2011 bonus depended upon the company's success in social media, I might be pretty desperate to deploy any and every social feature I could.

Google's +1 Button Video

Steve McQueen in Bullitt

Ghostbuster Crossing the Streams


Cory O'Brien said...

I think you underestimate the number of sites that would jump at the chance to add a "+1" button to their site, if only for the hope that it will give them any kind of SEO boost. The power Google wields with the +1 button is closely tied to their ability to alter search results with is usage, and if users start to see better results as a result of the button, I think adoption and usage could be much larger and faster than expected.

Unknown said...

Good analysis, but I think your critique ignores Google's broader strategy for +1. Shameless plug... I've blogged about it here:

But, in summary, +1 in its current form is only a first step. Once +1 clicks begins to influence search result placement, web/content owners will embrace it.

Augie Ray said...

Cory and Shane,

I think your comments thoroughly prove why Google +1 is such a bad idea. As noted in the final paragraphs of my post, there is a difference between the content we find "cool" and the stuff we find usable. Google has the universe's best process for knowing what content is best and it avoids at great cost any gaming of the system. Why, now, would it introduce a feature that specifically permits gaming of the system?

My guess is that +1 will either go the way of Wave and disappear once it is demonstrated Web site owners and users have no interest, or else the +1 will be used for something other than improving SEO.

After years of hawkish vigilance to prevent tactics that boost SEO, there is zero chance Google is now going to introduce their own black hat SEO mechanism.

Cullen O'Brien said...

Hi, old friend. Thoughtful post, as usual. I agree with the challenges you identify. However, I see an even bigger concern than what you say is your biggest concern. What I just don’t get is: Where is the “friend network” associated with my Google profile, whose +1s I will see when searching (and who will see mine)? I have at least two Google Profiles I am aware of (or, as you would say, “of which I am aware” ;-)), I do not believe I have any friends associated with them. (Unless I am a total dolt and missed this feature?!) Assuming I am correct, does Google have plans to address this, e.g. some kind of Facebook or Twitter “connection” that tells +1 who my friends are? And do my friends, in turn, need to also opt-in and/or give Google permission to share this with me? The “friends” aspect of +1 seems its biggest roadblock. Perhaps this is addressed in the +1 opt-in process (which I have not completed), but even so, they face an uphill battle in getting people to do that. Heck, this isn’t even discussed in the promotional video you shared. You’d think they would have metioned that! To me, the biggest issue is the apparent lack of a “friends” component associated with Google Profiles, so who’s gonna see my +1s...and whose will I see?

Cullen O'Brien said...

Sorry...after I left my comment, I did a bit of digging. Here's what +1 says:

"Google looks at your social connections to determine who to show your +1's to and which +1's might be useful to you. Your social connections include the following contacts:

- People in your Gmail (or Google Talk) chat list.
- People in your My Contacts group in Google Contacts.
- People you’re following in Google Reader and Google Buzz."

Um, in my case (and I suspect lots of other peoples'), that means ZERO people. All of my electronic contacts are in Outlook, Facebook, Twitter and/or LinkedIn.

Like I said, this is the biggest hurdle for +1 in my view.

Augie Ray said...

Great point, Cullen. I approached +1 as if the information was used by Google's search engine, but the fact Google doesn't really serve as a social network is another big problem. If you, I or most others wanted to share a link, would we do it via Facebook or Twitter, or would we click Google +1? It seems to me Google's latest social effort is a solution in search of a problem.