Google +1: Algorithmic Influence of the Crowd

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legos_smallADOTAS – Crowdsourcing. Social. User-Generated. Influence. Sphere. Empowerment. Google’s +1 has all of that and more. It reads like the business plan of some wild startup. +1 is integrating search and social in ways that we predicted and hoped for in real and powerful ways. But most interestingly, and the long-term impact is yet to be seen, Google has shared algorithmic influence with users, rather than keeping all power inside the algorithm.

What Exactly Is +1?

That is easier to show than to explain. A simple button next to a search engine result becomes a powerful weapon of influence. By clicking on this button, you have declared to Google that you think this result is relevant to your query. Google is certainly stoking a fresh kind of relevancy into search queries and activating a user’s thinking and his/her recommendations in a new, real-time way.

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Your “+1” is similar to the “Like” button at Facebook. It declares your affinity for a particular search result. It is your vote of confidence. The interesting thing about your vote is what Google does with it. Google gives you a small voice in what people in your Google social circle (or sphere of influence, to cram in another buzz word) see as relevant when that same search engine result comes up for them. When one of your friends (and we will define friends, minimally, as someone who is in your Google Contacts list and/or follows you on Buzz) they will see that you have “+1’d” a particular result.

What Does It Mean?

+1 creates another advertising synapse for Google. By associating someone that the searcher trusts with a search result, that result takes on more relevancy, immediacy and impact. The simple visual notification that someone has “+1’d” something makes the searcher pay more attention to it. It is this “eye-candy” that will drive more clickthroughs.

And of course, clickthrough are near and dear to Google’s heart in the paid search world. Google has integrated “+1” into the AdWords displays as well. So, an ad that I like will have an increased visual appeal and sense of relevancy to it because my friends will trust it more.

This means that we have become the influencers of relevancy and we shape some of the fundamental visibility (and thereby traffic for marketers — and revenue for Google) of advertising. In some ways, it is as if we are voting on who gets to buy the billboard next to the highway.

Google As Crowdsourcer

Does this ability to vote and influence mean that Google is handing over the keys to the algorithm to the wisdom of the crowds? Is Google now all user-gen all the time? Hardly. But as a competitive tactic, Google is facing a threat from Facebook and Facebook’s firm ownership of the “Like” button and all of the data that comes from that social graph.

Google is behind the 8-ball, and with highly publicized issues with its venerable page rank and linking as leading indicators of relevancy, Google has made a bold move to publicly share influence. Rather than keeping the algorithm a completely mysterious entity, Google is giving the crowd a taste of its power. You have the opportunity to influence. The crowdsourced algorithm is here. But truly, our “+1”’s will only matter to a small circle, and all of the “+1” data will be aggregated and fed to the algorithm, which will make better choices for searchers over time.

Better Results?

Luckily, since all of the voting is done publicly (your friends see what you’ve “+1”’d) and all of your “+1s” are listed on your Google profile, the system seems immune from easy gaming. The public nature of the “1s” should keep it on the up and up.

But what is really compelling is that +1 is happening in real-time from real users. Voting for trusted favorites, marking relevant ads, creating points of empowered influence happens as you go through your every day life. This isn’t a deep thinking process. It is intuitive and instinctual and perhaps serendipitous.

“+1” is driven by your impulse, your insight and it has stepped, in a small way, into the primary product of one of the world’s most powerful and influential companies. Not a bad result for a search for “Zebra Print Shoes,” huh?

1 COMMENT

  1. so once again the media giants are all ‘raking it in’ from WOM and the publics’ sphere of influence.
    come on Public, let start our won Social Network where thE ad dollars go to US for likes and “+1” s! I AM SERIOUS, GOOGLE FACEBOOK, HUFF POST, GROUPON, ETC
    ANYONE IN
    ?

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