+1? I don’t Quite Think So

While a sizable proportion of world population was watching two sub-continental teams battle it out for the ICC Cricket World Cup, the folks at Google were doing a +1 (for those who don’t know, “+1” is digital shorthand for “that is cool”. I have seen many do a +100, especially on Twitter, which I extrapolate to “that is 100 times cooler”. But you get the drift). So here is what Google will do with “+1”.

As you see results of your search, you will notice a “+1” icon next to the results. You could, depending on how useful you found a particular link, click that “+1” button and in a way vote that link up (you can instantly undo a “+1” too). Now say your friend Jason also was searching for the same (or similar term) and your “+1”-ing of a particular search result will get highlighted to him in the results he gets to see.

In a way this is Google’s way of overlaying a social graph on search results, which is where the world seem to be going. Opinion however is divided on whether it makes sense to overlay the search on social graph or vice versa (I am partial to the former part of the argument). Here is a rather quick analysis of Google’s +1 strategy

  1. This is not new. Remember, Google used to allow users to “star” search results – that is, one could vote up a particular result in terms of relevance. The “+1” strategy in a way expands that, bringing in a social angle (Update: It seems Google has withdrawn that feature. However, I could still see a yellow star against some of the old search results I had previously upped)
  2. The success of Google’s “+1” depends on the strength of its social platform, which by any indication is quite weak. It failed to do much with Orkut, which has been obliterated by Facebook in user acceptance. Buzz landed up in a confused state and has remained that way till now, unsure of where it belongs in Google’s social assets and strategy. The bottomline is that not many use Google as their social platform for the company to be able to show the most socially relevant searches to an user in “+1”
  3. Google can however do smarter things with “+1” using GMail as lever. With the ability to snoop on our GMail messages and GTalk activity, it can not only understand some of our social relationships (not to the extent that Facebook can, though) and the strength of nodes of our social graph. That information can be brought back to enhance the +1 experience. It could do the same through Google Reader, bringing back to “+1” the sharing activities that it allows within the RSS Reader.

The long and short of this is that Google has a fair amount of assets to become a serious player in social search. It however starts with the disadvantage of having to build the social graph as an afterthought to its core strength of search.

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And the award goes to…

There are two reasons why an award is coveted. Scarcity and Visibility.

Creator of an award, especially if it is a professional award, is faced with a dilemma. More or few. That is, create the award such that more people receive it or less. The former builds up a community quicker – and leads to greater adoption of the philosophy (or commerce) behind the idea of the award. It is a bit like the high school sports event where most kids got selected for some award or the other. That ensured the parents showed up for the event and collections at the gate were healthy. It is counterintuitive to think of designing the award such that it goes to only a few. However, scarcity is that what creates an aura around the award and makes it coveted. Think of the Nobel Prize, for example and that there isn’t one each for theoretical physics and applied physics

It is no good if the award does not result in visibility for the recipient. In fact, in a way, this follows from the scarce bit. The award should farther the cause or the profession of the recipient by putting him under the spotlight. Get called for a TV show, ask to chair an important debate, speak at a fundraiser, deliver the keynote address at an industry event – and so on. The designer of the award must cater to this by getting the community to display this generosity (genuine generosity).

It is easy to throw money and resources in an effort at making an award a success – in fact that often is the first instinctive reaction (lay out the thickest red carpet and they’ll all come). And you may be fooled into a short term success. However, without Scarcity and Visibility you severely restrict your chances of winning the long haul.