Google’s launch of its new +1 feature is an attempt to add social signals to search, but it’s also an attempt to jump-start the company’s social-networking efforts, and that seems to have less likelihood of success. Why? Because people don’t go to Google to be social.


After much rumor and speculation about a new Google social feature of some kind, the Internet giant finally unveiled what it calls its “+1″ service today. The service — as Om explained in his post on the launch — is an attempt to add “social validation” to search, via Google’s version of the Facebook “like” button. While these kinds of social cues may help improve search, however, the move also appears to be the latest attempt to jump-start some kind of Google-oriented social network, something that seems to have substantially less likelihood of success, at least as it’s currently configured. Why? Because people don’t go to Google to be social.

As Om describes in his post, and as Search Engine Land lays out in more detail, the main feature of the +1 system is that it allows users to vote on search results or ads. Their vote is then displayed next to the result for anyone in their Google-based social network.

And what is that Google network? Good question. At this point, it’s people in your Gmail contacts, people you have agreed to connect to through Google Talk, people you subscribe to through the company’s RSS reader, and people you follow on the Buzz social network (you can see your social circle here).

At this point, Google tries to glue together all these different sources of contacts, friends and follows through your Google Profile — and it’s no coincidence that when you enable the +1 features, one of the first things the company tries to get you to do is either set up a profile, if you don’t already have one, or update your profile, if you do have one. The biggest problem, as with so much of what Google has tried to do with social features and services so far (yes, I’m looking at you, Buzz) is that Google profiles aren’t really connected to anything in any real way.

Yes, I can link my Twitter account and my Facebook page to my Google profile, but it’s just a simple HTML link that someone could click — assuming someone actually visited my Google profile page, which as far as I can tell no one ever does. The reality is that nothing I do within the network of Google services affects or is connected to anything I do elsewhere in any real way, and that includes the places where I spend a lot of time, such as blogs and Twitter and Facebook. And that’s a big part of the problem.

So yes, it’s good that Google is adding social signals to search — that’s a smart thing to do. And like Om, I am kind of wondering why they didn’t do it a lot sooner, since search is still 90 percent of what Google does (from a financial sense, at least). But that focus is part of the problem: everything the company does is still seen through the lens of search, which is why it has so much trouble understanding how social features work (see Buzz) and sees social as something that can be “bolted on” to its existing services.

Search may be interesting to Google, and useful to millions of people, but it’s useful in a purely utilitarian sort of way — not in any kind of social way. In some ways, in fact, those two purposes are completely antithetical to each other, which is why no one thinks of Google as a social destination. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think that improving search results in some kind of theoretical way is enough motivation to get people to play in Google’s version of a social network. Not yet, at least.

The company says it is considering adding links and connections to Twitter and other services in future iterations of the +1 service, and I hope it does so soon, because in its current incarnation, the Google social network is profoundly uninteresting. The company’s introductory video is embedded below.

  1. A Google- Based social network is compelling in that it tries to tie together the different social experiences you have without putting you under a Facebook/AOL style umbrella.

    1. Yes, and I can see the appeal of that — but at the moment, it’s just your social experiences with other members of Google services, and that’s a pretty small group when it comes right down to it.

      1. I’m sure their userbase is still bigger than Twitter’s userbase, but they still need to work a lot on engagement.

      2. Andrew Macdonald Thursday, March 31, 2011


      3. I see what you did there!

  2. I think you’re quite right, Mathew, in pointing out what sorta’ feels like the futility of using +1 only to have it go nowhere.

    I do wonder though if there isn’t a useful distinction to be made between Facebook as a destination and +1 as a layer. A destination is a centralized place that collects all your social activity, something that Facebook is becoming increasingly good at, especially with the like button. But a ‘layer’ atop one’s online activities seems kinda’ like RSS for social – it produces a feed of your social activity that isn’t restricted to a destination, but can be put anywhere. And I wonder if, when one shares interests with a dedicated group of people, it might not be useful to have some searches vetted. Recently, I was thinking about ‘great movies about the internet’ – what if when I searched for that, +1 was eventually smart enough to narrow the results to things my social graph had recommended?

    I’m not disagreeing with you. I think you’re spot-on, as usual. I just wonder if there isn’t an interesting nugget of an idea in how +1 functions differently than the like button precisely because it isn’t aggregated anywhere, but instead acts as a portable filter or lens over and atop the web.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nav — I agree that having a filter or a layer is an interesting concept. And I see how this filter that Google is building benefits Google, in the form of better search. But apart from the kind of query you describe, for movies or books or something of that nature, I don’t really see how it adds much for me at this point. Maybe if Google starts pulling in more aspects of my online social graph that will change, I don’t know.

  3. Google’s trying to make it so you won’t have to “join” their network.
    All google accounts (formerly gmail accounts) technically have a profile you can edit (profiles.google.com/username) from which you can link your Picasa account, view your Buzz feed. YouTube has sharing via Buzz, all Google Services have that unified bar now that can link to your profile, etc., and now +1 will eventually be visible to all Google searchers (logged in or not?).

    Basically, Google’s trying to make it so that if you have a Google account, you’re part of their social network. It needs a tiny bit more polish, and maybe some heavier integration with YouTube, perhaps one of their most popular services, but I like it so far.

    1. Lucian Armasu Thursday, March 31, 2011

      I agree, they need to heavily integrate Youtube with this. I’m surprised they haven’t already. Youtube is their most “social” asset. For example, during the recent revolutions what did people use? Twitter, Facebook…and Youtube.

      If they can integrate all their web services well enough, they might be able to build an interesting social graph about people using their services.

  4. I think the main issue with this is that I don’t care what people like simply because I’ve emailed them and they use a website. So who cares if 100 of my friends like a recipe or a movie or something? The whole pitfall of social media is it creates a lowest common denominator type experience, and +1 is the absolute epitome of that. The whole point of liking or sharing something on FB is that it IS a centralized place, I’ve never looked at a facebook like box or whatever on a third party site and gone “hey, 100 of my friends like this” because I have more than 100 friends whose opinions I don’t care about.

  5. I tried to “+1″ this article… but I didn’t see the button. I ended up “Liking” it, instead.

    1. Thanks, Hawk :-)

  6. I think this is really just the beginning. I’m thinking that Google Profile is really a combination of Facebook’s Wall + profile. When I see my Google Profile, I see the PicasaWeb pictures, Buzz, and my +1s (i.e. Likes).

    This is a great step for Google. They really are taking this slow, but building a solid infrastructure. I think the real power will come if Google pushed the OpenID format, and allow anyone who searches for something on Google with a valid email address (whether it’s a Yahoo Mail or Hotmail address) the option to create a Google Profile (i.e. no Gmail necessary).

    The Contacts from these other email services could be easily imported into the Google Profile, and the other Google services could be used without a Gmail email. The Google Profile becomes a person’s SocialID, combining and leveraging other services.

  7. Some more thoughts:

    I think Google is taking the “long tail” approach in taking on Facebook. If Google can get enough Profiles built with people’s email addresses as their SocialID, and link that Profile with +1s, Contacts, Photos, Commenting, etc (these other services like Flickr would have to opt-in via an OpenSocial or OpenID API) then I think the aggregate of these other services would certainly be enough to take on Facebook’s 500 million users.

    I’m not sure if that’s what they’re doing, but it would make sense rather than trying to build “another Facebook” like Orkut.

  8. I agree totally. I wrote this earlier, asking why exactly I want to push that button: http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/google_wants_you_to_1_but_why_would_you.php

    (And then later, went off on a rant in the comments that expands on some of the same stuff.)

    So yeah, totally agree. Feels tacked on. Doesn’t make sense. Not sure that it can, but in its current incarnation, it definitely doesn’t. :)

  9. I think Google needs to shows all these “+1’s” in a centralized place besides Google’s search page. Right now they will probably focus on just getting people used to all this being on the search page, but they should show all the +1’s on some kind of wall if they want people to stay interested in this and actually use their “Google Profile”.

    Speaking of which, they should work on the Profiles page design some more. Oh, and the “Social Circle” page is the worst web experience I’ve ever seen! It needs a revamp like from the day it was launched. It looks like it was set-up in half an hour by a “developer” (not designer).

    One other thing I hope they’ll do is make a +1 extension that appears in Chrome and other browsers if possible just like normal Chrome extension icons appear, but you should be able to just click on it and count that page (no pop-ups, etc – just simply press on it). I hope they won’t make some kind of toolbar like it was leaked a while ago, because I hate using toolbars over web pages I’m visiting, and even Kevin Rose said toolbars ruin the web.

  10. We broached the same subject over at Marketing Pilgrim yesterday. With all the different ‘efforts’ Google has floating out there for a social product they are only clouding the issue. And, by the way, they are only clouding issue for the high tech Silicon Valley set because the VAST majority of people don’t know one 1/100th of what Google does or offers and unless Google steps off its ivory tower one day to educate to great unwashed they will be talking about this kind of innovation to a much smaller crowd tan they think. For 95 plus percent of the world Google is just a search engine. Their search engine of choice for sure but still just a search engine.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Frank — I agree that part of the problem is that Google seems to be trying to suck and blow at the same time. Very difficult to do.


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