From the looks of it, Google‘s latest foray into social web, in the form of +1 button might end up with same fate as its predecessors. In case you are unaware,it is the button at the top with +1 caption which according to Google official blog is digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool” is the search engine giant’s reply to Facebook “Like”. The fact that Google replies with a sentence like “this is pretty cool” to Facebook’s four letter “Like” may give us a rare insight on the mindset prevalent within Google’s team. The 2 character button itself may conform to the Web 2.0 trends,the descriptive sentence makes one wonder if they have embraced Web 2.0 with all their hearts or are just going along with the tide. This would also explain why Google continues to fail in getting a foothold in Social Web. Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself 😛 the pertinent to ask at this point of time is whether +1 is really going to be successful or not.
The first part, which is adoption by webmasters was never difficult to guess. All popular websites have already added it as have we. In fact, I added +1 button to my personal blog the very first time I came across the news of its launch. After all, “when Google says do this, it is done“. Especially when it has been made clear that the clicks would affect the search results. But is it going to work out ?
Google seems to have overlooked some simple questions.
What is the incentive for the user to click on the +1 button ?
The earliest implementation of a mechanism to let readers bookmark web pages online as well as vote and tag it was made by Delicious. But Delicious is a folksnomy service, Digg, a service launched a year later would serve our purpose better in understanding the concept of recommending pages. Consolidation of articles at Digg helped determine which articles had been most submitted and thus were most popular with readers. What it basically did is crowdsource task of determining the quality of articles to the general public. According to concept of the Delphi Effect or Wisdom of the Crowd, people tend to make better and more rational decisions collectively, rather than individually. It allowed readers to digg or bury articles with single click, the article with the most number of “diggs” was pushed to top of the heap, a mechanism far more reliable than algorithms that search engines used. For the average Digg user, the site provided opportunity to come across quality content without looking for it. Serendipity has been an important factor in the evolution of the web, services like Digg and StumbleUpon took it to another level. But it was open to exploitation by interest groups which is why Digg introduced secret algorithm but it was really the addition of social networking features that secured Digg its place. However, its user base was at no time even comparable to Google’s user-base, neither was it intended to. In fact, Google search benefited from Digg’s service in its quest to deliver the most relevant content as result to search queries.
Facebook on the other hand has emerged as an adversary of Google, and the latter has not only acknowledged it but has also tried to counter it. Yet they are not on the same level, the very natures of the either services are a generation apart, Google is the search engine giant, Facebook a social networking behemoth. I liken using search engines to looking up dictionary or directory whereas social media is like newspaper or magazine. However, currently there is not enough filtered,categorised data to make really make social media be seen as we see newspapers today.
Facebook Like button was meant to add any content on web to already existing social networks of users,the incentive is addition of value to a user’s social graph. Google intends to use its profiles service as the incentive but asking users to update their Google Profiles after introducing +1 button is like asking the tail to wag the dog ! Of course, Google can compile information from its services like Gmail contacts, Buzz, Orkut,Latitude but it would be called analytics and involve gathering user’s personal information and using it to deliver more relevant SERPs and Ads. But then that may raise privacy issues and more importantly it would in no way be “social”. At this point it may be prudent to ask why should “social” be such a big deal ?
Is there a big difference in the influence that my Gmail contacts have over me and the influence of my Facebook and Twitter friends have ?
Speaking for myself, most of my Gmail contacts are people I knew beforehand . They include my family members, friends, people I am in close proximity with in the physical world ( connected by chance not choice), their preferences,likes,dislikes had no role in me adding them to my contact list. On Facebook and Twitter it is different, apart from the usual contacts, most friends I have made on these networks are people who share the same interests,personality traits,thoughts as mine or people I look up to. Take Mashable for instance,I am likely to value what it has to say on social media much more than what my web 2.0 savvy cousin has to say.
Coming back to the point, lacking an incentive +1 button may not work out as a competitor to Facebook Like button. Ironically, the Mashable’s first article on the feature Google’s Answer to the Facebook “Like” Button: The “+1” has been tweeted 4611 times, Liked by 3219 people but has only 93 +1’s ! Now, may be the people weren’t aware of this feature which is why it got so few hits. So I checked out the latest post and found that it has been tweeted 1582 times and had 380 Likes as opposed to 27 +1‘s. Interestingly, if you closely look at TechCrunch articles, you can observe that after the announcement the number of +1 got for each article seems to have been declining with time which suggests that the readers may have lost enthusiasm gradually.
But it is not just the prospect of failure that use of +1 indicates, there is also the threat of the move back-firing and hitting Google where it hurts the most- the SERPs. Facebook has the advantage of having banished anonymity from its ecosystem,in fact its official policy that a user has to agree to when creating an account prohibits the user from providing false information. For practical purposes too, it is very difficult to maintain multiple accounts. Google on the other hand has no such restrictions, as a matter of fact, last year it introduced a feature to allow the user to sign-in to multiple accounts in the same browser session. Most likely, this feature may not be available with +1 but creating even dozens of Google accounts and logging in from different IPs is not such a big deal.
So +1 may open the floodgates for spammers and black hat SEOs, very much similar to the large scale spamming that Digg faced forcing it to reinvent itself and add several social networking features. In fact, if a counter-spam mechanism has not been built in, it could adversely affect the search results which is the foundation upon which the giant edifice called Google stands. What I find confounding is why Google chose to release +1 button in the period between the launch of its new PageRank system Panda 1.0 and Panda 2.0, which also accompanies more than usual tweaking of its algorithms and has stirred up a storm with many sites suddenly seeing their traffic plummet. Impact of Panda is something that deserves a separate post. What I am curious about is what the impact of +1 would be in this scenario ,is there more than meets the eye. Would Google’s resolve to penetrate social web affect its search capability , its core competence ?
Just a few hours back after publishing this post which clearly takes a critical view of Google’s social web efforts, I noticed the bar on top of my iGoogle page go black and sleek and the web buzzing with Google latest attempt to dethrone Facebook – Google+
Check out TechCrunch post on Google+ The introduction of +1 makes much sense now. For the record, my post had ended with a question mark,too many things were/are going on at Google at the same time to understand them in isolation. Though Google+ is being rolled out in a gradual manner, giving access to a limited number of users with no fixed timetable (remember Wave ? ). I must admit that this products seems to be much better then one could expect from Google but if can take on Facebook is a matter of debate (and time). And for me, another post 😛
Google+ not only links togather all existing services, it also unleashes new applications such as Circles (group contacts into categories), Hangout (Find new friends in friends of friends through group video chats, virtual tweet-up) , Instant Photo (photos,videos from phone uploaded automatically), Sparks (app that fetches blog posts,videos etc of keywords you specify and stores them for leisure ), Huddle (group chats). The interface seems to resemble that of FriendFeed and a bit of Wave. So that’s it for now, you can check it out interactive introduction here and also submit your email address if you are lucky enough to not get 404 error 😛
So has Google finally found the weapon which can help it regain its position and more, or will this end up as yet another blooper ? What do you think ?