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New ‘+1’ Button Has Your Brain Help Google’s Algorithm

Friends’ opinions will affect search results, thanks to a feature inspired by Facebook.
March 30, 2011

Google has launched a close copy of Facebook’s Like button that will crowdsource people’s opinions to help the search engine know what’s valuable online. Called +1, the button will appear on Web pages and alongside search results, enabling users to signal that they appreciated a piece of content. Google will track clicks of the button to hone search results, using clicks from your friends as a signal of what is most relevant to you.

The search company announced the new feature today, saying:

It’s called +1—the digital shorthand for “this is pretty cool.”

A YouTube video introduces the feature, which will be “slowly rolling out” on Google.com, at first for users of the English version. Google’s new feature is very similar to one built by both rival Bing and search startup Blekko. Both use data from Facebook Like buttons to have your friends’ opinions tune your search results.

However, your social network is something of a blind spot to Google, which doesn’t have the same understanding of your social connections that Facebook does. Initially the +1s of your Google chat buddies and contacts will be used to “enhance” your results, the company says, while eventually +1s from your Twitter contacts might also be taken into account. At launch, though, +1 seems likely to be somewhat hamstrung by Google’s lack of a detailed social “graph” for its users.

When Google previously tried to remedy that, it enraged people by guessing at whom its users were friends with from their e-mail activity, and pitching them into a copy of Twitter called Buzz. Coincidentally, the FTC today delivered its verdict on the debacle, labeling Google’s behavior an example of “deceptive privacy practices.”

Yet Google’s hunger for a better understanding of your social network, and hence whose opinions it should use to tune your search results, is only going to be heightened by the launch of +1. Expect to see Google make renewed efforts to launch features and tools that capture social connections in coming months.

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