Google, having failed to out-Facebook Facebook and to out-Twitter Twitter with Buzz, began a more modest attempt today to build social-networking features into its Web presence: the +1 button.
The +1 button lets people recommend Web sites to those in their social circle. Web site operators now can add +1 buttons to their own sites; Google and partners such as The Washington Post, O'Reilly, and Best Buy already are adding the feature, Google +1 programmer Evan Gilbert said in a blog post.
"With a single click you can recommend that raincoat, news article, or favorite sci-fi movie to friends, contacts, and the rest of the world. The next time your connections search, they could see your +1's directly in their search results, helping them find your recommendations when they're most useful," Gilbert said.
Google sites using the +1 buttons include the Android Market, Blogger, Product Search, and YouTube, the company said. The company also has offered Web developer tools for adding +1 buttons to pages.
The button may be new to Google, but it's not new to the Net. Facebook's like button is already a fixture.
The +1 button, though, is connected to Google's search results--a potentially powerful incentive for Web developers to add the button. Sites that get a lot of +1 clicks could fare better in search results. And--if people have actually taken the trouble to identify their social networks on Google services--could influence friends' search results.
Social networks have transformed how people use the Internet, exemplified by the hours they spend keeping up with friends, family, co-workers, and others on Facebook. As Google has grown beyond being a mere search engine to a company that offers a wide range of online services, its difficulties injecting social-networking signals and features into its services have become more glaring.
Yesterday, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt took the rap for Google's social shortcomings. He wrote memos but didn't follow up enough: "I was busy," he said.
The Orkut social network is used only in some small niches, and Buzz--despite being wired into the widely used Gmail--was largely a dud. Google has taken a more incremental strategy of late, of which +1 is the latest step.
Other examples of this more modest approach: Google has been slowly beefing up members' profile pages to make them a bit more of a social hub, and it added local and social recommendations with the Hotpot service that now is merely an unnamed feature of Google Places.