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By Thomas Baekdal - June 2011

Google +1 Button Needs a Social Touch

Google has launched their +1 button "for websites". Meaning that site publishers now have yet another button to add to their sites (like we didn't have enough of them already).

But unlike the Facebook's like button, Twitter's tweet or follow buttons, and Stumbleupon's stumble button, Google's +1 button lacks one very fundamental element - social sharing.


When you like something using Facebook's like button, it is primarily because you either want to share this page with your friends, or because you want to follow the brand - or both. In any case, the reason why you click the button is that it helps you connect.

It is the same with Twitter. If you click on a tweet button, it is primarily because you want to connect this page with your followers. Or if you click the follow button, it is because you want to connect with the brand.

The reason why they work, and more so, why they are so successful, is because they facilitate a social connection between people.

But Google doesn't get that. When you click the +1 button, it doesn't connect you with anything. It doesn't share the page with anyone, nor does it establish a link between you and the brand. It is primarily a service that helps Google create better algorithms.

While a Facebook "like" or a Twitter "tweet/follow" connects, a Google +1 is something you have to discover. You can either happen to come across it while searching, or manually go to each of your friends Google Profiles pages to look it up in a separate tab.

When asked about the difference between the +1 button and the Google Buzz button, Google had this to say:

The +1 button and the Buzz button have different purposes. The Buzz button lets people quickly and easily share content and starts conversations, while the +1 button is a quick, easy way to make recommendations in Google search.

Google +1 isn't social. It doesn't connect. It is a tool designed to help Google.

Google has failed to understand social for a very long time. In a recent interview at D9, Google's Eric Schmidt openly acknowledged that he had "screwed up" social.

I do not think +1 is going to be a success, neither for Google nor for publishers adding it to their sites. Not until Google finds a way to use it to connect with people in your social circle. Nobody cares about helping Google rank sites so that it can improve their search engine listings. Nor do people want to help you get a better SEO listing by +1'ing your site.

We care about sharing and being a part of something. We care about creating a human connection. We care about making our streams more relevant and content rich.

Google clearly created +1 to primarily help Google. The Facebook like button and the Twitter tweet and follow buttons were primarily created to help you (and secondly to help them).

Google vs. Social and Microsoft vs. Windows - same problem

Google's problem with social is a lot like the problems Microsoft have with Windows. One of the main reasons why Microsoft has failed to do a lot of things is because most the projects were based on trying to make Windows more relevant.

Take the Windows tablet. It was never created because they wanted a great tablet. It was created to make Windows relevant for the tablet form factor. That is the wrong approach. People do not care about Windows. They care about the tablets.

The only products that have been really successful for Microsof, are those who were not based on trying to make Windows better. Like the XBOX.

Google is making the same mistake with social. Their reasons for creating +1, is not be social, but to make their search engine more relevant. Google search + social is like Windows + tablets.

It is a defensive move to protect the old (search), not an aggressive move to create the new (social streams).

My advice to Google is simple. Stop thinking of social as an extension to Google Search. Social is not a result of search. Search is a result of social.

The Algorithm

Another reason why Google is struggling with social strategy is because of their relentless focus on creating algorithms. I wrote an article about this back in 2010, but the short version is that people are the opposite of algorithms.

Once you identify what a person is like, people revolt and change into something else. With this in mind, Eric Schmidt also said:

But the other thing that we're doing that's more strategic is we're trying to move from answers that are link-based to answers that are algorithmically based, where we can actually compute the right answer. And we now have enough artificial intelligence technology and enough scale and so forth that we can, for example, give you - literally compute the right answer.

While this might be a great thing in many other areas, it is going to work against them when it comes to social.

Social is about sharing, which means linking. And people do not want to be matched by machines. Can you imagine a successful Facebook page based on a Google algorithm? It might technically do a better job than any human could do, but it is not a social connection. People prefer other people.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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