Google unveils '+1' button to rival Facebook 'Like'

Search giant launches social button that allows users to recommend and share search results, but market watcher says latest social media attempt unlikely to succeed.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Google has unveiled its latest social networking feature, the "+1" button, which provides users a way to recommend search results to friends, but an industry watcher says the "copycat" feature is not likely to see success.

Users will need to have a public Google profile and log in to select the "+1" option, which appears next to search results such as Web sites or ads, and share "useful" and "relevant" recommendations and information with their Google contacts, product manager Rob Spiro said in a blog post.

To be launched first on Google's home page, the "+1" button--which is the digital shorthand for "this is pretty cool"--will eventually be available as a plugin so the function can be integrated into other sites.

However, Adam Bunn, director of search engine optimization (SEO) at search marketing agency Greenlight, noted that the new tool is unlikely to see significant adoption.

In a research note Friday, Bunn said: "There are immediate shortcomings if Google is hoping to conquer the social sphere in a bid to further bolster its dominance in the search space."

He noted the similarities between the "+1" and Facebook's "Like" buttons, the latter of which currently holds the lion's share in the social sphere of online interactions.

"[Google] creating its own copycat is unlikely to succeed," he said.

He pointed out that the search giant will only be able to pull off entering the social networking space if it can import data from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, into users' Google profiles, and become the "gatekeeper of social interactions" or the first to market.

But there are hurdles should it decide to do so, Bunn said, noting that there are already "too many points of interaction" today including Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging and e-mail. In addition, social networking behemoth Facebook has also made clear it is unlikely to allow Google access to the data it holds, he said.

Bunn also highlighted that the Google brand is widely perceived as "functional rather than recreational", and unless it can create paradigm shift in online social interactions, there is "little option other than to buy Twitter" or form a major partnership akin to the Bing-Facebook alliance.

Google's "+1" effort marks the company's latest attempt at penetrating the social networking realm. Since 2009, the company has rolled out online real-time collaboration platform Wave and social networking platform Buzz to much hype but little success.

The latter, in particular, generated intense privacy backlash when it was found that Buzz--which works with Gmail's Web interface--exposed e-mail contacts that users did not want to make public.

Wave was eventually killed off last August--though some features resurfaced in Google Docs--while Buzz continues to be embroiled in lawsuits and privacy audits.

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