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There are very few things I like about Facebook. But one of those things is the 'like' button. While it would be easy to spin up a post lamenting how such simple interfaces trivialize human relationships, I find just the opposite. On FB, and other places that allow quick one-click acknowledgements (Metafilter, for instance, has a similar option that lets you 'favorite' comments in threads), I find it a very useful feature. It lets me quickly let someone know that I read or liked or observed or noted that thing they wrote, and to do so with a positive spin on it. And sometimes that's all that needs doing. In a face-to-face conversation, we might smile or nod, but online text-based conversations don't easily allow for that. And there have been many times in other online conversations where I've wished for a 'like' button -- it's a vast improvement over an endless stream of "ditto" and "me too."
Google's had a number of 'failed' forays into the social media space. They're rolling out a new attempt, called +1, which is going to act somewhat like the Facebook 'Like' button, apparently. But it's going to cover the whole web (more or less). Here's what the Googlers themselves say about it:
[...] relevance is about relationships as well as words on webpages. That’s why we recently started to include more information from people you know—stuff they’ve shared on Twitter, Flickr and other sites—in Google search results.
Today we’re taking that a step further, enabling you to share recommendations with the world right in Google’s search results. It’s called +1—the digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.” To recommend something, all you have to do is click +1 on a webpage or ad you find useful. These +1’s will then start appearing in Google’s search results.
Here are a couple of early commentaries. Wired:
The +1 feature’s introduction hints at Google’s strategy for breaking Facebook’s tight hold on user’s identities and how they share information. Instead of building a full-on competitor to Facebook by say redoing Orkut, Google looks to be trying to slowly get users to create a public identity page — and then create services that work with that page, until users find, like a frog in water slowly boiling, that they are actually a part of a social network that Google has slowly built around them.
There's no Digg-like central repository for the most popular Google +1's, just as there isn't one (yet) for Facebook Likes, though a publisher can use Facebook's API to create displays of their most-liked stories. When you search for something on Google, you won't see a list of how many people have given each result a seal of approval, but you will see whether one of your Google contacts has given a +1 to a link. But Google's probably aggregating this stuff behind the scenes, so with enough recommendations behind it, a result that's garnered many +1's could ultimately get a boost in Google search, giving them a hidden badge of crowdsourced approval and potentially combating the encroachment of "content farm" links that are search-engine friendly but neither particularly helpful nor relevant.
We'll have to say how it all shakes out. My first reaction is to note that I don't really want my 'social' sphere influencing search results. It's not clear that will happen, but it could. And my second reaction is to note that Google's track record in this sort of thing is so poor, I'll be surprised if it's still getting much attention 6-9 months from now. Still, it's something to keep an eye on for now.