Google is giving social media another shot—after failing miserably with Google Buzz—by making its search results more shareable.
The search giant has introduced a new "+1 button" within its search pages, which users can click to share search results they find useful or relevant. In addition, Google users will start seeing searches their friends have recommended. For example, below a search result for hotels in a certain vacation spot, a small box might appear reading something like “Joe Smith +1’d this.”
Here’s the part that is sure to stir up controversy: Since Google is not a social network like Facebook, how does it know who your friends are? Google says that it will first start featuring “+1s” from people that a person connects with via Google chat or Gmail, and eventually may start including recommendations from a person’s Twitter feed. So, for sharing, you’ll need to be logged into Google (something that often happens automatically for Gmail or Google Reader users). Or you’ll need to establish a profile.
In announcing +1, Google didn’t mention Facebook, or whether the company would look to feature recommendations from a person’s Facebook friends, which are technically public. Still, the move is clearly aimed at blunting Facebook’s ever-expanding prominence and power—as many in the industry believe that social media will eventually diminish the power of Web searches as more and more users turn to friends for recommendations.
“Relevance is about relationships as well as words on Web pages,” wrote Google product manager Rob Spiro in a blog post on Wednesday (March 30). “The beauty of +1’s is their relevance. You get the right recommendations (because they come from people who matter to you), at the right time (when you are actually looking for information about that topic) and in the right format (your search results).”
Google isn’t the first search company to attempt to make search results more relevant by incorporating social connections. Last fall, Microsoft announced a partnership with Facebook that saw Bing incorporating Facebook likes into its results.
But Google is potentially entering more rocky territory, given its market dominance, and the attention it garners from privacy watchdogs. Indeed, search is in many ways a private matter—not necessarily a social activity. Might users be thrown off by seeing search results recommended by friends? To appease privacy concerns, users can visit the Google Dashboard and check out a section dubbed “Social Circle and Content”—though it’s questionable how many will take that step.
And who’s to say that users will be interested in taking the time out to recommend searches—let alone set up Google profiles—when search is inherently a quick, in-and-out utility? As Spiro put it in his blog post, “Our goal at Google is to get you the most relevant results as quickly as possible."