Google has been an innovator in web-based technology for over a decade, but one area where they have been lagging is social networking. The company has tried in the past to become a player in the social networking world with Google Buzz, but this attempt was largely seen as a major failure by technology experts and Google users alike. Buzz was heavily criticized for its intrusive nature and lack of originality.
Google went back to the drawing board, and their latest effort – Google +1 – strives to steal marketshare away from Facebook and Twitter.
It is clear from the initial showcase provided by Google that +1 is modeled after the "like" feature of Facebook. Google brands +1 as a recommendation system where your friends can highlight particular search results they find important. Also similar to Facebook, Google plans to implement a +1 button on numerous websites, somewhat resembling the current Facebook Connect system. To use Google +1, however, users will have to create a +1 profile and then link to other +1 users.
Like other Google products, such as Gmail and YouTube, +1 is centered around one overarching goal – to get users to see advertisements. Unlike Buzz, which tried to more closely emulate the status features of Facebook and Twitter, +1 is much more smaller in social networking scope. That Google is focusing on copying the "like" feature of Facebook is not surprising. While internet advertisements have been generally thought as having low value, targeted advertisements such as those built from the Facebook "like" feature are extremely valuable. It makes sense why this is so – a person is much more likely to purchase a product if he or she has indicated a positive opinion toward that product or a similar product. This is why Facebook held firm to their policy of making all profiles searchable despite backlash from privacy concern groups. Without open access to profiles and the "likes" that come with them, the value to advertisers for each user drops drastically. And while Google will let you +1 news articles and recipes, they are really more interested in you recommending coffee makers, televisions, and computers. This will enable Google to even better target advertisements to you in your Gmail account. Rather than having to guess your interests based on the text of your emails, you are going to inform Google directly.
Ultimately, it seems that +1 is not really much of a social networking tool at all. Rather, it is another way for Google to increase the value of its users to advertisers. Since users will have to create profiles to participate in +1, it gives this new Google feature the feel of a social networking platform, but in reality this is just one more way to increase your value to advertisers. Word of mouth advertising is some of the cheapest and most persuasive forms of the trade – it's why sites like Yelp are so popular (and profitable). And by linking your +1 profile to those of your friends, anytime you +1 something, it's basically an electronic word of mouth approval of a website (or product) to people who will trust your opinion.
For me, if I want a friend's opinion about a product, I'll just ask him. Do yourself a favor and skip Google +1.
Introduction video for Google +1