Experts: Google's +1 has Minuses

Google's latest attempt to infuse its search engine with social networking elements appears underwhelming and its success is questionable, as the company struggles to respond to the increasingly serious threat posed by the Facebook and Microsoft search tandem, according to industry experts.

By Juan Carlos Perez
Thu, March 31, 2011

IDG News Service — Google's latest attempt to infuse its search engine with social networking elements appears underwhelming and its success is questionable, as the company struggles to respond to the increasingly serious threat posed by the Facebook and Microsoft (MSFT) search tandem, according to industry experts.

Called "+1" and unveiled on Wednesday, Google's most recent social search feature seems weak in several areas, including a potentially confusing user experience, strong and established competition and a weak social graph anchor, the analysts said.

From a public perception standpoint, the +1 feature looks closely modeled after Facebook's ubiquitous and popular Like button, making Google appear to be a follower and not an innovator in its core market.

"This isn't revolutionary. It's actually fairly evolutionary. It's a 'me-too' move, catching up with what Facebook has done," said analyst Jeremiah Owyang from Altimeter Group. "It's not a huge leap forward for where Google needs to be in the social space."

While Google remains a dominant leader in search usage and advertising, the influence of Facebook, Twitter and other social networking and social media sites is growing quickly in how people find sites and content on the Web. This +1 feature is an attempt to let Google search users recommend results and share that feedback with others.

To its credit, Google has been anticipating this for years. For example, in 2008 it tested a recommendation feature in a limited way, placing "up" and "down" arrows next to search results, so that people could rearrange them and also comment on them, thus giving feedback on Google's ranking for queries. Google has also provided over the years a variety of customization and personalization tools for this same purpose to users signed into Google Accounts.

Results haven't been particularly successful. "Similar efforts [to +1] in the past haven't penetrated to mainstream usage. It's quite possible this will experience the same fate," said industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence.

If Google managed to make +1 work in the way it expects, it could likely be very valuable as a data gathering and analytics tool that Google could use to help its marketers fine-tune their AdWords advertising campaigns, since +1 will also appear next to ads. "Its incorporation into advertising is very interesting," Sterling said.

IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds concurs. "It could be a real advantage for Google to have that data, both to make its search results crisper and to tell advertisers a bit more about the activities of their potential customers," he said. "At the end of the day, it's all about winning and retaining customers in the advertising game."

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