Google +1. Recommend­ations, really?

We had a quick chat in the Clearleft office about the the recently announced Google +1 button. Initially it seems the button will only appear in search results and ads, but the introductory video claims that ‘soon you’ll be able to +1 more than just search results, you’ll also find the +1 button on sites across the web’.

But do we really need another ‘like’ button? My initial thinking was no, and that opinion hasn’t changed yet. Google might have some interesting plans for the data they receive – it may well feed into GoogleRank for a start. Essentially though, this just seems like another attempt by Google to move into the ‘social web’ space and grab some of Facebook’s territory. They’ve failed miserably so far, and I can’t see this helping.

Josh noted that it’s understandable for Google to gather yet more data – it’s their business model and it’s worked well for them so far: knowledge is power. But do we want to give Google more data? There’s an understandable fear around a company having so much influence, but what evil can they inflict once they know what we ‘like’? Perhaps it’s an irrational fear, but it’s good to be cautious when it comes to monopolies.

Harry pointed our that what matters is not the recommendation data itself but who gets to see it. With Facebook, when you ‘like’ something, your recommendation can be seen by your Facebook friends. Let’s think about that for a minute – your Facebook social graph is something you have lovingly curated over many years. Facebook have tried they damnedest to make sure you’ve put in a ridiculous number of hours growing, preening and pruning your friend list. This is why Facebook relatively ‘likes’ are high value.

With Google, your social graph is not something you have personally curated. In typical Google style, they’ve tried to automate the process of social graph creation by mining publicly available friend data on the web – like your Twitter follows and followers – together with the various bits of contact information you have stored within your Google account. If you’re a big Twitter user, a blogger and you use your Google account a lot, then Google’s automated approach will probably work quite well for you right out the gate. But will it work well for normal humans? If Average Joe sees a load of +1s from people he doesn’t care about, it’s just noise. And if he doesn’t see enough +1s, it’s just not useful. And at least with Facebook, he can instantly remedy either issue. With Google, what can he do – sit and wait?

Which is pretty much what we’ll have to do now – sit and wait to see how much traction this gets, and what Google decides to do with the data. As Josh said above (and many people before him) knowledge is power. And so is data, if you’re Google.