Why Google +1 (probably) won’t work

by James Duthie April 14th, 2011 


Its a familiar story by now. Dj vu even. Google releases a new socially enabled product and the web goes wild with conjecture and hype. And of course, +1 has fostered the very same reaction. Yet I cant help but feel more than a little skeptical. After all, weve been down this path before. First came Social Search. Then the infamous Google Wave. And last year we were treated to Buzz. And while Social Search still maintains some semblance of life, most of Googles social projects sit atop the stinking trash heap.  And this time around, I cant help but think that +1 is headed for the exact same fate

Why Google launched +1

Theres little doubt that +1 is a direct response to Facebooks Like button. What started out as a seemingly innocuous feature gained such immense traction that it has effectively become an informal recommendation engine. Indeed, last year it was reported that Facebook users Liked over 65 million items every day!

The advent of the Like button has enabled Facebook to build a complex profile of its user interests. For instance, they know what books, bands, movies, brands & sporting teams I like via Facebook Pages. They also know the type of content/topics that interest me based on what I share within Facebook.

While Google may know what my interests are at any specific moment in time (via search), only Facebook understands who I am as a person. And that is incredibly powerful from a marketing perspective! Which is why Google wants in!  Because this type of data has the potential to introduce a new layer of relevance to search results.

When search engines manipulate results based on my personal interests, along with the recommendations of my friends (in the form of likes), we have an incredibly powerful product on our hands. Which is precisely what Facebook and Bing are doing right now. Google simply has to act!

Googles new +1 product aims to replicate Facebooks Like functionality so that they too are able to build their own database of user interests and recommendations. But in my mind it has little chance of success

Why +1 is probably doomed

if the
of +1
isnt to share
content, what
is its purpose
To understand why +1 may be doomed, it is first necessary to understand the psychology behind why people actually share content online in the first place. Liking content isnt a new phenomenon. Well before Facebook existed, people shared content via the web. It was called email, and it is still the most common channel for sharing content on the web. However, Facebook has provided a more contemporary outlet for content sharing.

So why is it that we actually share content? Typically it is because that content generates an emotion that we want to share with our friends/family. Most often, its because the content makes us laugh. However, there are a range of other emotions that motivate us to share content:

Regardless of the nature of the content, we share it because we want others to feel that same emotion. To experience what we experienced. Which is precisely where Googles +1 tool misses the mark

Googles network of irrelevance

Google isnt a social network, hard as they might try. Unlike Facebook, they dont know who my real friends are. Instead, they attempt to cobble together a network via a mish-mash of contacts within Gmail, Twitter, Buzz & a range of other services (that arent Facebook).

But heres the thing, none of these services (aside from perhaps Gmail) have reached critical mass in adoption and usage. Subsequently, Googles network utterly misses the mark. Conversely, because everyone uses Facebook, their social graph is an incredibly accurate reflection of my real-life network. So if I want to share something, Im not going to Google! Im going straight to Facebook.

So if the purpose of +1 isnt to share content, what exactly is its purpose? And why should I use it? Sure, it may ultimately help improve the quality and relevance of search results, but the fact is that 99.9% of the population arent interested in helping Google improve their algorithm. Thus it serves no purpose.

+1 meet Ping

Ultimately, +1 seems like a reincarnation of Ping (Apples attempt at a social network). Ping could have been an awesome product. I really wanted it to work.  The idea of being to easily browse the music my friends bought had so much potential (bearing in mind most dont use streaming services). But the product never reached its potential because Apple refused to collaborate with Facebook.

+1 is treading the same path. The harsh reality is that Google and Apple cant succeed with their social products without Facebook integration until a credible competitor emerges.
In the meantime, Google needs to take a leaf out of emerging social services such as Instagram, Quora & Miso. Rapid success lies in Facebook integration. Without it, youre simply barking up the wrong tree!

James Duthie

I'm an online marketing strategist currently working for one of Australia's largest online agencies. I consult with our clients to develop holistic web strategies, while also managing the SEO and social media elements of the business.


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11 Responses to “Why Google +1 (probably) won’t work”

  1. StockbridgeT says:

    "First came Social Search."

    Actually, first came Orkut – the king of all Google social failures. 😉 Great article though – and I agree. It's doomed like the rest.

  2. I think +1 will work, and be a big part of search in the future. Of course Google will evolve it and change things here and there, but can you imagine how powerful social powered search could be? Think 90% search results based on your social circle, 10% based on computerized algorithms.

    The real question we have to ask now is: do we (and our friends) know what we're really searching for, or do we need to rely on the computer to tell us?

  3. For +1 to work effectively, it needs to be in the face of the public. Always there staring us in the face, yet it needs to not annoy people. A fine line to walk, if it is possible.

  4. […] To find out why, you'll need to head over to Search Engine People for my latest guest post – Why Google +1 (probably) won't work […]

  5. I don't see the reasoning behind giving a search result a "+1" when what you're really after is the meat behind the click. Many times you won't know if you like what's behind the click, and what will you do then, go back to the search results to give it a +1. I don't think so.

    It's half-baked.

  6. Wendy Huang says:

    I just think this button will be a lead in for people to build bots to click them for SEO purposes. It's soon going to turn into a link building exercise as opposed to a social network

  7. ewan says:

    History says you're right as Google hit rate with new product innovations has been average. Sure, it will be gamed by the SEO community just like Google maps/places was in the first year. However, Google needs to get this right to combat the strategic threat of Facebook in the search arena.

    Google is already making big steps to improve the profile information they are collecting on all their users.

  8. […] Why Google +1 (probably) won’t work (Search Engine People) […]

  9. Ella says:

    @ Wayne John – "I don't see the reasoning behind giving a search result a "+1" when what you're really after is the meat behind the click."

    Great point… most people simply want to find information, or a product / service as quickly as possible. How many average searchers are actually going to use this feature?

  10. Daniel says:

    I dont think its going to fail, or it ever will, it definately didnt take off like perhaps google expected, but i think its slowly growing and it will just continue to do just that, nothing exceptional will be happening anyhow :)