For months, rumor has had it that Google was working on some big social project called +1. Now it’s not a rumor: Google has officially announced it as an “experiment” which it’s rolling out slowly and explained how to try it out. And it turns out that +1 is very much like Facebook’s Like button–a one-click method of expressing your approval of something on the Web in a way that’s relayed both to your friends and to the Internet at large. It’s launching on Google search results–and the ads on Google search results–and will apparently pop up on other Google products and other sites in the months to come. Just like the Like button.
I just gave a +1 to a site I like:
In principle, I like the idea of +1–especially if it’s spamproof, and especially if Google starts to use +1 ratings to rejigger search results in a useful way, something which I assume it’ll do sooner or later.
But one thing about +1 remains fundamentally confusing: Just who are the friends whose +1 recommendations I’ll see? Google’s blog post addresses this, but doesn’t clarify things all that much:
So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you’re connected to, and how, visit the “Social Circle and Content” section of the Google Dashboard.
Social Circle and Content section of Google Dashboard? I didn’t know such a thing existed. So I visited it–and its explanation of who I’m connected to, and why, is pretty murky.
By contrast, relationships on Facebook are easy to understand, and it’s easy to understand why I have them: because I accepted someone’s friend request. That, as much as anything else, is what makes the Like button appealing.
Google’s post makes reference to a “slalom-skiing aunt” and “culinary genius college roommate” who can use +1 to recommend relevant content. On Facebook, that aunt and roommate can celebrate their interests in a way that’s obvious, but Google doesn’t yet have those tools. (I know there’s such a thing as Google Profiles–here’s mine–but compared to Facbeook, their richness-and-mindshare quotient is approximately zilch.)
I assume that Google understands that people don’t yet think of themselves as having “Google friends,” and that it knows, from painful experience, that assuming that it can treat people I contact via Google services as social-networking pals is risky business. For +1 to take off, it needs to dovetail with an easy-to-use, easy-to-understand system for managing friendships via Google. So I imagine that the company is furiously at work on something along those lines–and that its absence might help explain why +1′s rollout feels tentative and incomplete.
Anyhow, here’s Google’s own video explaining +1: