Google’s +1 – this won’t be abused at all

I try not to be cynical on this blog, but every once in a while something comes up that raises the eyebrows just a little higher. And in this case I am a little wary about the value of Google’s new +1 button. It’s not that I don’t see the value that Google is striving for, it’s just that I think it has the potential for abuse by vested interests.

Watch the video, then jump to some thoughts about it:

Google says about the new feature:
“So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible”

+1’ing something highlights to friends, family, colleagues, and as the big G says “the whole world”, and will certainly send a little note to Google themselves to indicate that a human has recommended a link, and therefore should rank just a little higher.

Google says that search results will become more relevant as a result of seeing what your friends and colleagues have +1’d. But before we all celebrate users +1’ing the best content, lets not forget that around the world there are thousands of SEO companies that now have a way of legitimately upping their content. Not only that, they can do it in a way that’s endorsed by the very company they’re trying to manipulate into giving them, and their clients, better search results.

I’m confident that Google has thought about all of this of course – and if they’d released this post on April 1, I might have thought it was an April fools prank (and it might still be, I can’t find an actual working +1 button anywhere on the internet – even when logged in with my Google profile and using Google.com not .com.au).

I’m sure Google wouldn’t have released this feature without being able to monitor what and who is updating what – but questions remain about how they will discern between an individual who is genuinely passionate about a particular subject and someone who is paid to upvote search results within a particular vertical market. Further, as many SEO’ers are likely to have many clients and many ‘interests’, how will Google figure out who is just a regular user who casually +1’s various search results and someone who updates a variety of clients results.

The only other thing I’d say about this feature is is relies on people +1’ing something after they’ve read or used the page. How else would the user know if the page is genuinely useful or not? And if they’re +1’ing something prior to using the page, how useful is that? This feature, while well intentioned, does ask an awful lot of users: Google for something, go to a page, like it, make sure you’re logged into your Google profile, go back to the search result and then give it a personal tick of approval.

The final thing to consider about this new feature is the question about how long the +1 lasts. What happens when that page is updated and potentially fundamentally changed later on? Does the +1 get reset, does Google prompt you to re-evaluate your decision, does nothing happen at all and for all eternity you’ve endorsed the page no matter what the website owner does with it?

Lots of questions, not a lot of answers – and the lingering feeling that this could just be an April fools prank.

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