Google March 30 launched its long-awaited, supposed Facebook-flaming +1 button to the world as an experimental feature, with a slow rollout coming as the search engine tunes and tweaks the feature.
+1 is best thought of as simply Google's version of Facebook's Like button, the social network's recommendation engine. Users will click the +1 next to each search result or ad on Google.com, and +1s will start appearing next to each selected search or ad result in subsequent searches.
Don't think of +1 as a bid to beat Facebook so much as a way for Google to glom onto Facebook's passion for forging digital ads paired with social recommendations, which is a super smart move by Google, albeit with some pitfalls.
The good news is the service is easy. Users literally just click the +1 when they like a search result for a car, restaurant or ads to recommend these products to users. No mess, no fuss.
The bad news is that users who want to generate +1s need a Google Profile, the ad-hoc social graph builder Google set up two years ago to begin applying social services to its products.
This requires Google users, who are accustomed to coming to Google.com to search and flit away, to leave more information about themselves, similar to the way they already do on Facebook. Profiles users enter their name, work info if they prefer, interests and links to other Websites.
Profiles is how Google's Social Search links users to their friends, surfacing content created or shared by Google's linked Gmail and Chat users, as well as users from Twitter or Quora.
"It's a continuation of search becoming more personalized and relevant to you," Altimeter Group founder Charlene Li told eWEEK. "The biggest problem is that Google excludes the biggest social network, Facebook, so you're limited to who is in your Google address book/Chat list and Twitter."
The problem is that there is absolutely no indication that enough people are using Profiles the way they feed content to and suck content from Facebook.
Google doesn't disclose the number of Profile users it has, but even it is in the tens of millions, it's still just a fraction of its massive, unparalleled search base of 1 billion users. How can Google get more searchers setting up Profiles to engage in sharing via +1?
As IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds told eWEEK, Google continually runs up against a chicken and egg problem every time it tries another socially driven product or feature.