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Summary:

Google is doing everything it can to integrate the Google+ social network into all of its properties, so that it can become a “social layer” across the entire company. But that same behavior is irritating users like actor — and prominent Google+ user — Wil Wheaton.

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When Google launched its Google+ social network, the company made it clear that it wasn’t just another Buzz-style experiment — director of product Bradley Horowitz said Google+ would become “part of everything” the company did. And over the past year or so we have seen a bit of what this means in practice, with G+ content being incorporated into search results and other services. But these attempts have also meant an almost inevitable clash between what Google wants and what users want. We got a glimpse of that on Wednesday with actor and author Wil Wheaton’s response to a change on YouTube. Is promoting Google+ worth it?

Wheaton, who has parlayed a starring role as the young ensign Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation into a career as an author, wrote on his widely-followed blog that when he went to give a video a “thumbs up” vote on YouTube, instead of the usual thumb icon that he used to see, there was a Google+ button. And hovering over the button showed a popup that asked him to “upgrade to Google+” before he could vote on the video (according to a comment from Google, it is testing different interfaces for YouTube votes including a Google+ button, but has not made a widespread change).

This incident sparked a rant from Wheaton about the web giant forcing users to log in to its network in order to simply vote on a video. But the outrage wasn’t driven by the actor and author’s desire not to use Google+ — in fact, he is a regular user, and an extremely popular one, with more than 1.3 million people including him in their Circles (the Google+ version of Twitter or Facebook lists). Instead, Wheaton said he was concerned that users who wanted to give his videos a “thumbs up” might refrain if they had to join yet another social network in order to do so. As he put it:

Oh, go f*** yourself, Google. This is just as bad as companies forcing me to “like” something on Facebook before I can view whatever it is they want me to “like.” Just let me thumbs up something, without forcing me to “upgrade” to G+, you ****heads.

Not everyone is happy with Google’s bandwagon jumping

The actor’s rant on his Tumblr blog was subsequently re-blogged (or shared) by over 2,000 users — including author Neil Gaiman, who added his own comment, saying he wished that “Google would leave the Social Network thing to others.” Although the company is capable of great things, said Gaiman, “when it rides bandwagons, it’s irritating. I’m not on Google Plus, and I suppose that I won’t be liking YouTube videos any longer.” And best-selling author John Green added a similar comment on his own Tumblr, saying:

Making it so that only Google Plus users can decide whether a YouTube video is worth watching benefits no one except for Google Plus: It is bad for viewers, bad for video creators, and bad for YouTube’s ability to curate and tailor videos to potential viewers.

The addition of Google+ voting buttons to YouTube videos no doubt seems like a natural extension of the network — one directly in line with the philosophy that Horowitz outlined last year, where Google+ becomes a “social layer” on top of everything the company does. And using YouTube as a way to promote the network as a destination and encourage users to sign up probably seems like a natural thing to do as well. But the response from Wheaton and Gaiman and others shows that some users are going to see it as an attempt to shove Google+ down their throats whether they want it or not.

There was a similar kind of response when Google added G+ content to its search results as part of its “Search Plus Your World” feature: critics (including us) complained that this was a breach of Google’s promise to its users that it would present an unbiased view of the world, and that it was effectively putting its thumb on the scales in order to promote its own network. And it seems to be doing more and more of this in an attempt to overcome the perception that there simply isn’t enough room in the market — or in most people’s online lives — for yet another social network.

Buttons on a YouTube video may seem like a relatively small thing to get so upset about, but it’s just one more lever that Google is using to try and push users into its network whether they want to go or not. Is that really the best way to get the kind of goodwill that a successful social network requires?

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Flickr users Robert S. Donovan and dutchmassive

  1. Perkuna Engineering Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    Didn’t these users already need to sign up to youtube to use the thumbs-up button? What’s the difference?

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    1. The difference is that they many are likely already users of YouTube, since they are going there to watch videos — but the G+ button appears to require that they have a Google+ account as well in order to make use of it.

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      1. I still don’t see the problem. In time Youtube and G+ will be the same sign in anyway, so there won’t be a difference. People don’t get up in arms about using the same FB sign in to post a message or play a game…this is just merely Google slowly combining all its products.

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      2. Google wants to have ONE Like/+1 button across all their services, and they want them to be interconnected.

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      3. Wilson Zorn Thursday, May 3, 2012

        To Marc, below, et. al., regarding “People don’t get up in arms about using the same FB sign in to post a message or play a game,” actually indeed some people, however few, do. While I have an FB account, I only use it for very limited circumstances. When I go to a site that requires FB login to comment or FB for a +1, I simply refuse to engage rather than use my FB login; I have no desire to give FB the information, end of story.

        I also have a G+ account and Youtube account. While I was annoyed they forced those logins to be shared, I did accept that. But many people are on Youtube and engage there with no desire to use a G+ account; it seems to me counter-productive for Google to potentially lose those users’ input or lose those users entirely, as I have been lost on sites that have gone to FB-only login.

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    2. herenotthere Wednesday, May 2, 2012

      From what I understand, they’ve replaced the thumbs up button with the 1+ button for some users (experimental at this stage apparently). And in that instance, you can’t use the 1+ button unless you sign up to google+

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    3. Agree with Perkuna here. The change is minor at best. To upvote you needed a youtube acount which was linked to your google account anyway. And having separate upvote buttons across each of googles properties seems stupid. Think about it one upvote in search which has no connection to upvote in youtube which is different from an upvote in Google finance which is different from upvoting a blogger post.

      Facebooks like is getting close to the universal upvote button, But then its closed and Facebook will not share its data with anyone so companies like Google need to invent their own upvote button – which they did.

      Will wheaton is afraid that his videos will not get enough +1’s but will get a lot of of thumbs up’s. Not too sure about that… What is open is what happens to the old google upvotes and and what happened to downvoting … Is there a -1 button ???

      People rant about every change made by their social network. Every redesign of facebooks layout attracts rants by an influential minority …

      All I can say is embrace change and move on !

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      1. Not everyone uses Google. Why should I have to join them in order to “thumbs up” something on You Tube?

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  2. I agree. I’m an active G+ user, and I welcome a G+ button just about anywhere — including YouTube, but that button needs to remain separate from the thumbs up/down rating that already exists. The thumbs need to stay, and should not require any other social media ties.

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  3. Perunka Engineering:
    According to the srticle, YouTube wanted him to log into yet another social media account in order to give a video a thumbs up. It’s one thing to have to log-in to the site you’re on in order to vote (it makes it harder to skew the vote on a whim), but to have to log in to another site owned by the same company not only gives another step that many users may not want to take, but requires registering for an account people might not want. It will end up skewing video rankings in favor of what Google+ account holders like.

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  4. Nigel Copley Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    It has to do it in order to survive the threat and make search a better around experience

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  5. I thought the reason why google requires a sign-in to +1 something is so that people just don’t do it over and over again, or write scripts to stuff the ballot box. Yes, it’s a hassle, but its not that important if you don’t vote. I don’t click on the Like button because I don’t have a FB account, and that’s o.k.

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  6. Lindsworth Horatio Deer Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    FarmVille Jamaica Live heralds the rise of the phenomenon of the kibbutz for those Jamaicans who live in the Concrete Jungle and want their children to experience someplace magical, family oriented and to learn about the joys of eating what you grow.

    http://www.geezam.com/farmville-jamaica-social-farming-gaming/

    This is an indication of the power of Facebook in Jamaica; its resulting in new social Trends in the real world. The day google+ can do that, they would have beaten FB on the ground as well as in the browser!!!

    http://mythoughtsontechnologyandjamaica.blogspot.com/2012/04/facebook-is-facing-serious-dilemma-in.html

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  7. I’m surprised to have seen so few references to how Google is killing Picasa Web Albums to promote Google+, moving photo editing and even some privacy controls over your albums exclusively to Google+, making permission much harder to understand (and to default toward allowing re-sharing of albums set to limited viewing).

    Sure, I realize that there will always be risk to putting anything online, but I don’t need Google imitating Facebook and herding me toward sharing more.

    I’ve been rooting for Google for a long time now, on Android and Gmail, never had an iPhone. I’m even a Google+ member, but the way they’re trying to funnel everything I do on Google properties into a social network is beginning to irritate, even scare me a little. Much more and I’ll be looking more closely at the Apple eco-system this fall.

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    1. Aaron Berlin Wednesday, May 2, 2012

      “the way they’re trying to funnel everything I do on Google properties into a social network is beginning to irritate, even scare me a little. Much more and I’ll be looking more closely at the Apple eco-system this fall.”

      This sentence made my head hurt.

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    2. Aaron Berlin Wednesday, May 2, 2012

      Arg. Misread what you wrote and now I can’t delete. Curse you, under-baked GigaOm commenting system!

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  8. Ultimately, I am NOT a social media type, so consider that when I say: “Yet another Social Media?”. Why? What features make this social media a better choice? Honest expressions of my views are still not implemented.
    ‘Thumbs upping’ (starting from no given opinion) needs to be countered with ‘thumbs down'; just like BaceFook needs a ‘did not Like’. I see the concept of only pushing towards positive feedback is counter to the idea of telling others that such and thus is not helpful or is not useful. If someone asks me about a certain car, I would offer both positive and negative points.

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  9. Facebook has got away with more, social networks don’t need goodwill

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  10. Thanks, Mathew. I’m surprised at how many commenters are, in effect, yawning. Google’s integration sets my teeth on edge. Kinda like Microsoft integrating everything into Windows. Same monopoly profits push. This is not the same thing as Apple’s ecosystem, which is driven by hardware.

    I have several geek friends looking at alternatives to gmail because it now shows Google+ profiles and updates alongside mail. That’s set my teeth on edge, too. Everyone I know is NOT in the same network, and I don’t mean digital social space. I mean network in the old-fashioned sense of the word.

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    1. You can easily turn the Google+ profiles in Gmail off. No need to quit Gmail over this.

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