With the roll out of Google +1 Buttons For Websites, almost all the key players in the on-page social button space are ready for the fight to truly be joined. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and old stallwarts Sharethis and Add-This all provide content creators with the ability to embed shareability, and signals which can be studied (Note to Bing: it’s not that hard. Make a little b! codelit and we will figure out what to do with it for you).
As a linking strategist, I totally dig social buttons. Making it easier for people to rate, share, save and bookmark URLs is Nirvana for me. See my LinkMoses post Riding The Twitter Link Waves for a case study.
At the same time, I have never been a fan of “wisdom of the crowd” or “grouplink” signals. Go read Brandon Keim’s thought provoking column at WIRED - Sharing Information Corrupts Wisdom of Crowds, where a recent study showed when people can learn what others think, the wisdom of crowds may veer towards ignorance.
Social sharing was fine when it was not a search signal. And someday, maybe 20 years from now, it might make search more than just the social curiosity it is now. What bothers me about the social link graph is not that it’s so easily gamed/spammed. It’s that people can be part of each others social circles yet have very little in common.
Nice Pants Jim…No Really
My friend Jim is a great guy, and I’ve known him a long time. I’ve been in his house, seen his bookshelf and CD/DVD collection, and I know how he dresses and what he drives. And while I enjoy seeing him and catching up on the kids, life, sports, etc., I have no desire to let Jim’s Tweets and Likes and Plusses impact my search results.
Why? Well for one thing, his love for Yanni will be at war with my love for Nine Inch Nails, and isn’t that an interesting battle for the engines to make sense of?
There’s a bit of forced comformity lurking underneath the social link graph, and that is, in my opinion, evil.
This leads me list a few ideas that would give me more confidence in allowing a social circle to affect search results.
It is impossible to follow more than 100 people and actually keep up with their tweetstream, unless you are unemployed. You know it’s true. And if you aren’t unemployed, 90% of those tweets sail right by you because, well, you are working. I know from my own work day that I don’t have time for the noise, even from those 78 people I follow.
The fact that I have 4,000 followers via @ericward amazes me, but it also leads me to believe that rule #1 for Twitter signals must be if you have anything of value to say or share, then you should have earned way more followers than people you follow. So as a starter, any Twitter user with who follows more people than they have following them is not a useful signal.
I could write volumes on the flaws with Facebooks social signals, but here are two simple ones. A few weeks ago, I had a call with a prospective client who had a “revolutionary diet product”. I’d never heard of this product in my life, their Facebook page was just a couple months old, and yet it already had 78,000 “Likes”. When I asked how this could be, I was told they had been purchased. They were paid likes. I already knew this, but his willingness to admit it was almost refreshing in it’s dishonesty.
Problem 2: I can kind of understand why a product page like Advil has 12,000 Likes, but what if your product happens to be something that might be very helpful but is not something one wants to disclose they use? And I don’t just mean something like Preparation H (731 Likes, bless them all), what about a product for wart removal, or heaven forbid, genital wart removal? Or how about a Facebook page for a treatment facility for substance abuse? How eager are people to let the world know they are drug abusing hemorrhoid sufferers? Go ahead, Like that.
I’m joking, but the salient point here is there’s a psychology to social sharing and human nature that means not all things are as likely to be Liked. So, rule#1 for Facebook signals is there has to be a topic specific Like graph, and in some instances, no Like graph at all.
I like being able to click the +1 button in the search results, but I also wonder just how this impacts corporate search marketing behavior. Does a company with 250,000 employees have an unfair advantage because they can send an internal note to their entire company asking them the click the +1 button? Is a competing company with only 10,000 employees at a disadvantage?
Remember, none of these +1′s are legitimate anyway (because they are mandated, not earned) and if we are looking only at social circles, wouldn’t IBM employees be more likely to have social circles that included other IBM employees? What’s the point of +1′ing your own company to your own social circle?
Now that the Google +1 button is lose in the wild, this will change things, hopefully for the better, but there remains another far greater problem with Tweets, Likes, and +1′s.
Old Gold Gets No Social Love
The problem is with older yet still awesome content. No matter how fantastic and evergreen it may be, it’s less likely to be Tweeted and Liked and Plussed, because back at the time it was created there were not as many people in the social web world to do so.
Here’s an example: Danny Sullivan’s incredible Introducing: The Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors was Tweeted, Liked, and Plussed over 6,000 times in just 2 days. Compare that to the equally important column Danny wrote on Jun 2, 2008 titled Microsoft Wins Deal For Live Search To Be Default On HP Computers.
That was some really big news at the time. I mean Big News. Yet that column does not have a single Tweet, Like, or Plus. So, rule#1 for for Google +1 is there needs to be a way to reduce any bias against “older” content that didn’t have the same chance to be “Liked”, since the “Like” functionality didn’t exist yet.
Social linking and Liking is a beautiful thing. But it has miles to go before I will have confidence in the wisdom of the crowds and the button of the moment versus the wisdom of the algorithm.
(Note to @yanni: It’s nothing personal and I’m sorry. My Mother has many of your CDs)
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.