Google 'Plus One' - are we going to 'Like' this or not?
Do you remember how different web pages looked a year or so ago? Here's a clue, we mostly just kept what we liked to ourselves - if we felt like telling the world about a site we loved, we might have emailed them the URL or mentioned it in passing. Today however we are inundated with ways to share our preferences... the ubiquitous Facebook 'like' button is everywhere you turn, along with invitations to Tweet, Stumble, Digg or express our support in myriad other ways.
So far Google has stood back from the social level of web navigation - search results based on secret algorithms, and a transparent paid listings section, offered what felt like a more objective and cleaner answer to the search for relevant information. Now though however they have joined the social game, with a new service - +1 (-1 for that name, I think!)
It's only starting to roll out, and initially in the US, but search users will see a little +1 box next to their search results, so they can vote up the results they like. If you haven't got it yet and fancy a peek, you can opt in via Google Experimental.
So what happens when you 'Plus One' something?
Well, the little white box next to the result changes to a blue one - big wow - but that result, in association with YOUR name, appears publicly to those in your social network. Likewise, future search results will indicate which of your fellow networkers have +1'd a result before you. You'll also get told the total number of '+1ers', including those not in your network.
One major impact for all content creators and webmasters is that +1 is going to be on the paid listings results too, ie the Adwords ads. Google reckons this is going to be good for advertisers, and that +1'd ads will show higher clickthrough rates - this makes a certain amount of sense, but the main thing is advertisers will not have a choice to opt in or out of the +1 system. Clicks on the +1 button do NOT count as a click, for Adsense purposes, and policy is unclear about 'plussing up' (don't mention it Google, I shall just invent some new jargon for you as required) one's own sites ads. It's another metric to track, for advertisers, anyway.
Because the inevitable next rollout will be the '+1' box for websites, which will doubtless soon be as common as the Facebook Like box - at least Facebook, Twitter and Google have all opted for complementary shades of blue... will this color scheming influence web design trends I wonder? The button is not available yet but you can register here to be notifiedas soon as you will be able to add it to your own sites.
As a content publisher, I feel unclear how this will benefit me - fathoming Google's ranking algorithms is obviously already a dark and mysterious art, and this adds a further complication. How important it is to be liked already? And how will black hat SEO protagonists find a way to manipulate this to their end?
How relevant to you as a searcher +1 will be really depends on the extent of your 'Social Network'. This 'network' appears to be comprised of
1. Your Gmail and Google Talk chat list
2. People you follow in Google Reader or Google Buzz
3. People in your Google Contacts ('My Contacts' group)
This is NOT the same as Google Social Search, and it's usefulness to you in terms of results you need would appear to be massively dependent on how embedded your net use is in Google and it's various services. Of course, it's in their globalised interests to have you do everything right there in Google, but not everyone uses it like that.
I think people use search differently too - I know that I will employ different tools depending on the objectivity of the task in hand. If I want to purchase a gadget or service, I'll google it, skim past the affiliate gushes that Farmer failed to nobble, and look for sales sites that represent the market or reviews by publications I trust. Would it be be helpful to know that someone I once got an email from happened to like a potential review? That's a very moot point, because for me my 'Social Network' would largely be comprised of people I don't know personally, and whose subjective opinions wouldn't be likely to massively influence me either way. If I want to know whether a film is worth seeing, or a good restaurant recommendation in a new city, I'll start with my Facebook or Twitter buddies, because they're people who's opinions might actually mean something to me.
It will be really interesting to see, whether as advertiser, publisher and searcher, just how +1 impacts on web use and outcomes. Obviously this is going to be part of a much wider foray from Google into the social sphere of the web, along with HotPot and other relatively quiet launches. Look out later in the year for Emerald Sea, Google Me, and other social network challengers... It doesnt appear that Google and Facebook are ever going to get into bed together from a data perspective, and each will continue to try and consolidate their dominant positions across the internet. How this will affect consumers remains to be seen, but for now it adds interesting new fragmentation to the social scene, for us all to keep up with!