Google is making plans to turn its +1 button into a crowdsourcing tool that
helps it re-order search results and fight web spam.
While not surprising, the move would bring Google’s search
engine into the social networking era, while simultaneously creating a new
avenue for blackhats to manipulate search results and potentially incurring the
wrath of trust-busting authorities.
Google confirmed its plans in an e-mail to Wired.com.
“Google will study the clicks on +1 buttons as a signal that
influences the ranking and appearance of websites in search results,” a
spokesman wrote. “The purpose of any ranking signal is to improve overall search
quality. For +1’s and other social ranking signals, as with any new ranking
signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals are related
Google prefaced its admission of the +1 search integration project to Wired.com
with a statement downplaying its potential significance: “There are more than
200 signals that we use to determine the rank of a website, and last year we
made more than 500 improvements to the algorithm.”
Introduced in March, the +1 sharing button debuted with
little incentive for web surfers to click on it. If you +1-ed a story on a
website that embedded the button, your profile picture would display next to the
URL when a friend of yours ran a search with results that included that URL.
But last week, the button entered adolescence, and can now
be used to post stories to friends and followers on Google+, much as the Like
button functions for Facebook.
So the next step of using what people are liking, sharing
and buzzing about online to rearrange search results is obvious enough.
Google dipped its toe into these waters with Twitter by
licensing its stream of Tweets, but that agreement ended before Google got so
far as to figure out how to do more with the fire hose of real-time information
than just decorate pre-computed search results with Tweeters’ profile pictures.
And as for Facebook? Google would love to get at its data —
the way that Bing is already — but the two companies go together like toothpaste
and orange juice. Facebook will likely never let Google anywhere near its data
stream, which meant that Google had to build in its own social network.
But therein lies the rub. If Google’s search results become
heavily dependent on social signals from Google+, then there’s going to be heavy
pressure on the net’s websites to embed the Google+ button.
And depending on where you work — say, Facebook or the
Justice Department — that could look like Google is unfairly using its search
engine might to boost its Facebook alternative.
That might explain why Forbes killed a story by Kashmir Hill
entitled “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic
Suffers” which was seemingly based on information from a meeting with Google
ad representatives. On August 18, Hill wrote, “the message in this meeting was
clear: “Put a Plus One button on your pages or your search traffic will
Hill followed up with Google’s press team. which gave Hill
the same carefully couched answer it gave Wired.
One guesses the tone of the post — and its headline —
rankled someone somewhere.
Forbes, Hill and Google all declined to talk on the record
about the post that disappeared into the memory hole.
That silence says as much as you need to know about the
touchiness involved in integrating a Google +1 button with Google’s search
But Google’s biggest weakness is the possibility that
someone will figure out how to build a better search engine — and there’s many
who bet the way to do that is to make search involve more of a human touch and
less of a machine’s.
indeed, Google’s interest in incorporating +1s into its
search ranking algorithm might also explain Google’s hard line position in the
so-called Nym wars. Google is being adamant that users of its new social
networking tool use their real names. In its zeal to root out fakers and people
using pseudonyms, Google has deleted legitimate profiles and raised the ire of
those who defend the need for pseudonyms on the internet’s identity
But if Google’s going to start using those +1 votes, the
company is virtually inviting the world’s spammers and blackhat SEO magicians to
flood its social networking system with fake profiles and fake votes —
potentially ruining it and possibly making the problem of search spam even