Google+ and what it means
For a while now, we’ve noticed the spread of the “Google +1″ button as Google rolled out their rival to Facebook “Likes” both in their search results and by providing the code for webmasters to add the button to their own sites. And it has also been announced that we’ll be able to track how many times our sites have been “+1′d” (is that the right way to put it? sounds pretty awkward to me) through Google Webmaster tools and Analytics. But it has become apparent that this new development, which on its own is quite revolutionary in terms of the way we approach search, and more specifically, SEO, it is just a small part of the larger jigsaw puzzle that is Google+, Google’s foray into the world of social networking.
Lets stick to the +1 button for the moment, and make sure we’ve got our heads around what it means. This post by WebProNews does a great job of outlining all the major points that any webmasters wanting to incorporate the new button on their site should know. But the basic concept boils down to a sort of social search. When people in your social circle +1 search results, there is a greater chance that you will see those results when you search yourself. So +1s can equal higher rankings, as results that might not rank otherwise can appear in first page SERPs on the back of being +1d by your friends. This post in Search Engine Watch does a good job of describing the ramifications of this new development, and we agree with their overall conclusion that while a neat development, it really all hinges on the adoption rate. After all, what good is a social network that none of your friends actually use? (Google Buzz anyone?)
But lets get onto the really interesting stuff. Google +. Google+ is the name for the overall social networking push that Google is undertaking, and covers a range of social-based services and products that were recently unveiled.
Really the best place to start talking about Google+ is the Techcrunch article where it was first fully unveiled, as they got a sneak peek at the new project before us mere mortals. Let’s start with the immediately obvious. The UI, and the new black bar on the Google page, as well as the slight design tweaks to how the SERPs themselves are presented, look great. Not really surprising when you find out that Andy Hertzfeld, one of the key designers on the original Apple Macintosh team, was the lead designer on Google+. Google+ certainly looks like an interesting development, and bloggers everywhere have been obsessing over it and what it will mean for the online industry. But to be brutally honest, it is simply too early to tell. In Google’s own words, this is currently a very limited trial, and you can’t even sign up yet unless someone invites you into the system. Social Networks, by definition, require enough of your friends and contacts to be on them to be of any use. We do like Engadget’s summary that runs down the core features and compares them to existing competitors like Facebook and even Skype. Having had a quick look at it ourselves, we can’t shake the feeling that it’s just like Facebook…and why use something like Facebook, when we already have Facebook?
In all seriousness though, Google+’s Ace up the sleeve is the Circles functionality. Once the membership grows, the idea is that people will share things with each other in a similar way to how they do so in real life. For example, you might share different things with your friends than with your family, or with your coworkers compared to your neighbours. Google Circles is Google+’s attempt to mimic this by making the creation of social circles simple and easy, and allowing you to quickly share with any of them via that shiny new black bar. But hang on…isn’t that just another kind of group? The same kind that nobody really wants to use, even on the social media behemoth that is Facebook? Circles are central to the success or failure of Google+ as a social network. Without it, why would you share your content on Google+, rather than Twitter or Facebook? That remains to be seen, but what is for sure is that Google has really taken the plunge into the world of social networking, and we would certainly not rush to bet against them making it a huge success like all their other products, especially since they have clearly learnt from the lessons of Buzz and have seemingly delivered a well-thought out product. So in my view at least, social search is well and truly here to stay….
and I’ve already signed up here for my own account….now the waiting begins.
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