Google's +1: A Facebook "Like" copycat that falls short on search enhancement

Summary:Google today announced its version of the Facebook "Like" button, a search results tool called "+1."  And as much as it appears to be a copycat of something that's already popular, Google's biggest selling point for this feature may be the ability to filter search results into something more manageable.

Google today announced its version of the Facebook "Like" button, a search results tool called "+1."  And as much as it appears to be a copycat of something that's already popular, Google's biggest selling point for this feature may be the ability to filter search results into something more manageable.

And, of course, at the end of the day, search is still the one place where Google dominates. Enhancing search to make the results more relevant is central to Google's business DNA. It's important to note because bloggers like me will be quick to compare +1 to the Like button - a fair, albeit incomplete, comparison.

Here's Google's explanation on how it works, from its blog post:

Today we’re taking that a step further, enabling you to share recommendations with the world right in Google’s search results. It’s called +1 - the digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.” To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1’s will then start appearing in Google’s search results.

Say, for example, you’re planning a winter trip to Tahoe, Calif. When you do a search, you may now see a +1 from your slalom-skiing aunt next to the result for a lodge in the area. Or if you’re looking for a new pasta recipe, we’ll show you +1’s from your culinary genius college roommate. And even if none of your friends are baristas or caffeine addicts, we may still show you how many people across the web have +1’d your local coffee shop.

I especially like how Google is trying to turn "+1" into a verb, the way the term "Google" (as in "I'll just Google it") has become synonymous with search. Will +1 take off? Maybe - but not right away. A few reasons behind my reasoning:

  • Google is asking users to engage with their search results by clicking the +1 button in the results - but why would anyone want to give a search result a thumbs-up before they've actually visited that site. For all I know, the link that appeared in my results goes to a Web site that doesn't offer the information I need. And let's say that it did provide the information that I need. Am I really going to go back to the results page just for the sake of clicking a +1 button?
  • Google said it plans to work with Web sites to get +1 buttons on those sites the same way that Facebook's Like buttons appear. Until that's part of the equation, +1 is an incomplete tool. People will recommend sites that they're visiting - not the ones they found in search results but haven't yet visited.
  • Facebookers tend to be OK with "Liking" a site because they know it's like telling their friends - people they know or otherwise are acquainted with - that they're OK with that Web site or news article or video, without having to put the reason they liked it into context. Presumably, my friends know that I'm a hotel snob so a "Like" from me, the person they know, means something. When other people around the Internet who I don't know pit their "Like" or "+1" stamp on something, it doesn't do much for me. Sure, if 200,000 strangers like something, that gives it a bit more oomph. But what's the real value here: the number of people who Like/+1 something or the names of the people who Like/+1 that site?
  • This plan works counter to what Google has been rolling out with Google Instant. Using Google Chrome, the search engine works faster to take me to my destination page, sometimes re-routing the browser window to the page that it's pretty sure I'm looking for, without showing the full listing of results. In those instances, where is the value of putting the equivalent of a Gold Star rating on something that users are increasingly not going to see?

Google's answer to the "Like" button is a good move - but it would have been better if it had been rolled out as a button on individual web pages, instead of on the results pages. Given all of the other enhancements that Google has done to get Web searchers out of the results page and into the sites they're seeking out, it doesn't seem that users will really get to know +1 right away - especially well enough to start using it as a verb.

Here's one of Google's famous video explainers on how the tool works:

Topics: Google, Browser

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.