Economic analysis

Google hopes you "like" +1

The company unveils its latest effort to be more social

Google has unveiled its latest effort to muscle into the social networking sphere. Google +1 is the company’s answer to Facebook’s Thumbs-up “Like” button. The +1 will show up next to search results and eventually on pages all over the Web, and when you click on it, your recommendation will be registered. Likewise, the search results and ads you see will tell you who among your contacts has vouched for them. Here’s a video explaining it.

As many have pointed out, this is just another in a long line of attempts by Google to be more social, with most of them falling flat. How can it be that a company that only a few years ago looked like it was going to take over the world has failed so miserably at making friends?
Fundamentally, it comes down to vision, or more specifically, that Google long-suffered from an acute case of far-sightedness. From its earliest days Google sought to “to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google saw oceans of information that needed to be tamed and channeled, and so it set about scooping up the collected works of whole libraries, art galleries, geographic databases—all of humanity’s collected knowledge—and found ways to deliver it all to our computers or smartphones.

But while Google was digitizing manuscripts and compiling star charts, it failed to see the most valuable information of all, at least to advertisers — our immediate personal thoughts, choices and desires as well as the insatiable desire so many of us have to share them with family, friends and even strangers. This is where Facebook and other social networks have excelled, while Google, despite several highly publicized product launches and acquisitions — Google Wave, Google Buzz, YouTube — has failed. Google may make all that information accessible, but almost all roads to the land of viral go through Facebook and Twitter.

Once the +1 service is rolled out over the next few weeks, and those +1 recommendations start to appear in search results, we should know very quickly whether it will reverse Google’s social misfortunes. Google says +1 will be digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.” But your friends will decide that.

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