We are beginning to see confirmation of what I suspected was the real reason Google invested so much time and money into Google+ and now is giving it to us for free. What’s in it for the Google?
Click the image to zoom to full size. Notice all those little avatars dotting the screen like human measles? Those are Google+ users who are either in my Google+ circles, or in my extended circles (in the circles of people I’ve circled, i.e., friends of friends). They are meant to be cues to me that those results just might be of more interest to me than the others.
There may be many reasons why Google spent over a year and suffered the public embarrassments of Buzz and Wave to get to the quite elegant and useful Google+ I’ve been playing with for a week now. There may be many reasons, but I know believe chief among them is Google is building the next generation search engine, and we Google+ users are its database.
For at least a year I’ve been hearing that Google is shaking in its boots, living in mortal terror of the day Facebook would finally unveil some kind of integrated web search that used Facebook’s vast social graph data as a major ranking source. I also heard pundits this past week laugh at Google for thinking it could succeed by being third into the social media big top (with Twitter and Facebook). Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Google is not third into social media; Google is first into truly integrated social search.
Between the +1 button (which I predict you will soon see as ubiquitously place on sites as the Facebook Like button is now) and now the ability with Google+ for Google to let its vast user base play in its sandbox and tell it what they think is truly cool and relevant, Google has taken a mega step forward in socially-integrated search.
This, and not any of Google+’s cool features (which Facebook could mostly copy), may be the “Facebook killer” aspect of Google+.
UPDATE: Here is Google’s cautiously worded admission that the +1 button is (and will more so in the future) affecting rankings: (Granted, this is about the site-based +1 button, but I firmly believe that the Google+ button, as well as just how people interact and share on Google+, will be in play as well, if it isn’t already.)
Content recommended by friends and acquaintances is often more relevant than content from strangers. For example, a movie review from an expert is useful, but a movie review from a friend who shares your tastes can be even better. Because of this, +1’s from friends and contacts can be a useful signal to Google when determining the relevance of your page to a user’s query. This is just one of many signals Google may use to determine a page’s relevance and ranking, and we’re constantly tweaking and improving our algorithm to improve overall search quality. For +1′s, as with any new ranking signal, we’ll be starting carefully and learning how those signals affect search quality. (Source)
UPDATE #2: This just occurred to me. On July 1 Google’s deal with Twitter for realtime search data expired, and was not renewed. At the time we were told the two sides could not come to financial agreement. But then a few days later, Google+ appears. Could it be that the real reason Google had no interest in renewing their Twitter deal is that with Google+ they will soon be able to introduce their own realtime search, with data they get for free?