Google’s much-discussed +1 button became available for any and all website publishers today and it’s a social initiative with a uniquely Google twist. Web travelers will be able to click the +1 button on any web page or ad they want to recommend (just generally recommend!) and then that page will be privileged in relevant searches performed by their Google account contacts. Searches on YouTube will show +1 results from Google contacts as well.

Is this compelling for website owners? Yes, probably. For web users who would click the button? That’s much less clear. For search users? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Time Machine: SearchWiki: Google Experiments With Customizable Search Results (October, 2008)

Why is this happening and why does it matter? A few thoughts:

  • Google search is being overrun by low-quality pseudo-spam and SEO gamed content. At some point you’ve just got to have a human hand try to solve the problem. If that hand works at Google, then the company has legal problems regarding favoritism and near monopoly power. But if that hand that edits the search results is a trusted friend of each user – that could work.
  • Socialconnection is becoming such a big part of the way we spend our time online that companies are hoping that will translate into social validation of links and purchases.
  • Google remains the center of the universe for a huge number of companies around the world – can they afford to ignore this shiny new button? (We can’t, we got buttons. Let’s all click them and see if they blow up or make a funny noise.)
  • Google says that +1 may lead not just to more traffic for websites that use it but may deliver more qualified traffic: visitors who have already seen social validation of the site they are clicking through to from their friends and contacts.

Is Social Validation Compelling for Search Users? And is This Effective Social Validation?

The social validation story is coherent, but is it compelling? I’m not sure. I’ve been using a service called Wajam for the past few months that does something very similar to what +1 will do for search users, but better. It incorporates your social contacts across Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

But has it changed my life? I don’t know that it has. I see friend-validated search results and sometimes I think “oh that’s great, I’ll click on that.” But it isn’t super often. None the less, cross-network friend graph and showing search results based on relatively passive sharing activity (as opposed to active clicking of an otherwise meaningless +1 button) is more compelling to me than what Google seems to be offering.

Why should website visitors click a +1 button if there is no immediately visible consequence or benefit to them? Searching items shared by friends on other networks that are already social seems more compelling than Google +1, but we’ll see how it works in reality.

See also: ReadWriteWeb’s in-depth look at +1 when it was first unveiled in March.