Google announced this week a new social search feature called +1. The new offering competes in some ways with Facebook's "Like" button.
By clicking on an optional new +1 button on your Google search results, you can tell family and friends that you recommend certain links.
Big deal, right? Well, actually, it could soon be a very big deal.
What Google's +1 adds up to
Google's +1 isn't what Google would call a "shipping" product. It's a "Labs" experiment, a cross between a beta program and a trial balloon. But it's available to everyone and easy to use. You just go to the Google Labs page and click "Join this experiment" in the section about +1. Once you've done that, when you're searching on Google, you'll see a +1 button on every search.
All your +1 recommendations are retained on a new tab viewable on your Google Profile. You can choose to make them public or keep them private. (I've made mine public -- you can check my +1's here.) Also: When your Google contacts conduct searches of their own that bring back links you've flagged with +1, they'll see your recommendation on the results page.
For now, the feature is limited to Google Search. Google plans to roll out the feature for websites of all kinds, including blogs.
Google also says it plans to "record information about your +1 activity in order to provide you and other users with a better experience on Google services." That could mean just about anything, although Google says +1 activity does not affect search rankings.
How +1 is like, and unlike, 'Like'
Once Google offers the ability for website owners to add +1 buttons on their sites, the service will be a lot like Facebook's "Like" feature. With Facebook, everything you "Like" anywhere on the Web is viewable by friends on Facebook. And that's one of the differences.
With +1, your recommendations are currently unlikely to be encountered "in the wild" by contacts. It requires both opt-in by contacts, plus the unlikely event that the other person searches for something you've already flagged.
Google +1 is currently useful only for seeing someone's preferences after you've run across them on your own, while Facebook "Like" is better for discovery. Both could be a lot better for discovery. What's missing from both Google's and Facebook's recommendation engines is the ability to pool all that data in a single space. The ultimate application would be open APIs by both parties, with some scrappy startup building the ultimate Digg replacement site where both systems are combined into a single popularity contest for content.
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