Will Google +1 button for Publishers challenge the Facebook Like button?

Google released the “+1” button scripts for publishers yesterday. Google had been pushing hard at personalizing and socializing the search results for the past few years and +1 is one more step in that direction.

The past couple of months, we had been reading headlines screaming “Google’s answer to Facebook’s Like button”, “Google takes on Facebook with ‘+1’ button” and so on! If you notice this blog’s sidebar and the social widgets section, you will find that we too have integrated the “+1” button here along with the other social buttons. But what is “+1” really?

According to Google, this is a “stamp of approval” of any web page or website “liked” by users and they seal their approval by clicking on the “+1” button. Oh, did we use the word “like”? Then it isn’t how Google want to define it. They prefer to refer it as a click of approval indicating “this is pretty cool” or “you should check this out”, than using that single word “liked”. They of course call it a “recommendation”!

Google believes and claims that the +1’s will help your Google connections to find the best pages on the internet, when they do a Google search.This is how it will actually work. When a Google search user searches for a product and if any web page or website related to that product is +1’d by any of his Google connections, he will get to see that recommendation in his search results. However, he should be logged into his Google account, to see the recommendation.

This is almost similar to what Google had released earlier as “Google social search”, when it would show content on “Twitter”, “Quora” or “Flickr”, shared by your Google connections, blended in the search results, but with an annotation referring the Google connection who shared the content. But it looks like the “+1” will also be a ranking factor in Google, though we are not sure at this point of time, on the extent of its influence. We cannot expect Google to reveal it either.

Irrespective of the weight assigned by Google to this new ranking factor, it will definitely influence or force several webmasters to integrate the +1 button to their sites, just like we have done here, as no one would want to miss out on a ranking factor. The biggest winners will be sites and forums that draw more user attention and user engagement. Post Google’s panda update, user engagement is said to be a key ranking factor in Google’s new algorithm and +1 seem to be supporting that theory.

To Google’s credit, it has made the integration simpler by giving a script that would work straight away, without the need for any customization, if webmasters use the canonical URL tag on their web pages. Even otherwise, customizing it wouldn’t be that difficult and Google has also released a decent guide to help webmasters with some advanced options in integrating the button. Check out everything about the Google +1 button.

Will the +1 button challenge Facebook’s Like button?

Before we delve into finding out whether it would challenge the Facebook “like” button, you may ponder why it will be a challenge to Facebook and not to Twitter. The reason why people make headlines claiming the +1 button will challenge Facebook’s “Like” button is because Microsoft is making use of Facebook’s user data to “improve” its search results. We qualify the term “improve” as it is yet to be proved.

But, why are Google and Microsoft showing so much interest in using social data? It is because some research or survey groups report that a major percentage of consumers online trust recommendations from people they know. Further, they also claim that a major percentage of internet users say their purchase decisions are influenced by reviews from family members or friends.

Google and Microsoft repose strong faith and trust in the above findings and hence are focusing on social data in any form. Google is also integrating the “+1” button to Google ads and these would work the same way as other +1’s (shares) from your Google connections.

The requirement of being logged in to make the “+1” count, would also provide them an opportunity to track user’s search behavior. Since attempts to personalize and socialize search results will see the maximum success only when people are logged into their Google accounts, they will make use of every opportunity to make users remain logged into their Google accounts, most of the time. “+1” is yet another tool from Google to help them achieve it.

So, what is Google missing out in this implementation and will the “+1” button really challenge Facebook’s popular “Like” button? Here are some of the reasons why we feel that Google isn’t doing it the way it should have.

First and foremost, it isn’t something innovative as it was when Facebook introduced the “Like” button and many internet users would see it as an attempt to copy someone else. Next, the button though colorful, doesn’t make the Google branding explicit. This is unlike the Facebook “Like” or Twitter’s “Tweet” button which had taken care to stamp their branding on their sharing buttons. Update: Google has now ensured that their branding on the +1 button is obvious.

One another thing we noticed is while hitting the “+1” button, Google does not show the URL or the title of the page being +1’d in the confirmation dialog.This is unlike the Facebook “Like” or the Twitter’s “Tweet” button, which when clicked will show such information in the confirmation dialog. The way “+1” button is currently implemented, it has the potential of being misused by hackers. Update: Google has now changed their implementation to show details like Title and description of the items being shared.

Though Google is making it attractive for webmasters, by making it a factor in their search rankings, the end users may not really find it compulsive or impulsive to log into their Google accounts, to click on the “+1” button. Here is why.

Whereas Facebook is a social sharing site where people interact with their connections on the shared items in the form of comments, Google “+1’s” are only visible in their search results and it could in no way be an alternative to a social platform. “+1” doesn’t provide an opportunity for the users to interact on the shared items, at the time of sharing them. It is this ready interaction which is making people throng social networking sites, and that is completely missing in this implementation.

While Facebook’s “Like” button and Twitter’s “Tweet” buttons are more real-time sharing of pages discovered (and probably liked) by users, “+1” isn’t and this is a huge difference. People like to share and see what is shared on their timelines in real-time and social sites like Facebook and Twitter also make it easy for users to interact on the shared stuff, through comments and tweets. People also like to share what they have discovered, immediately. “+1” isn’t going to provide them these opportunities. Update: Google has now made it easier to share your +1 items on Google Plus, their social platform.

All these straight away debunk the theory that “Google’s +1 Button challenges Facebook’s Like button” as they both don’t serve the same purpose and the similarity ends with these being buttons that users can click. Google’s “+1” is more like the traditional rating widget that we see on websites, with the exception being that Google is promoting it by making it a ranking factor and also by showing the shares to your Google connections, when they do a logged in search.

Google had Orkut even before Facebook or Twitter arrived but they didn’t realize the power of social until these two arrived. They also did not make any genuine attempts to resurrect Orkut. We at Techblissonline feel that Google, even now, could have taken a different approach (which we have in mind) in personalizing and socializing search and it would have been much more effective and useful for the end users.

However, they seem to be chasing what other social networking sites do, by implementing their concepts in their traditional products. Whenever you chase something, without trying to be innovative, the road to success becomes longer or never-ending.

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