Unlike Facebook: How Google Dropped the Ball With the +1 Button

Google recently launched their +1 button, rightly considered by most to be a close mirror of Facebook’s ‘Like’ Button. This gives the atypical impression of Google following in another company’s footsteps, but we can see a social interaction with web pages as being an inevitable step forward, and as such, following suit with something ‘like’ish can be forgiven.

When Google innovates in a pre-existing area, as they did with Gmail and with their search engine itself, we expect a significant and clever improvement such that it feels almost like a new service. +1 is not identical to the Like, and while it leverages and integrates Google’s search side, it misses out on the grand opportunity to fix what I consider to be the biggest and most obvious failing of the Facebook Like: the fact that you cannot dislike.

First, here’s Google’s promo video:

“Have you ever come home to a note that made life just a little bit easier?”

Yeah. “I think the milk might have gone off.” “Don’t see Gigli.” “Cancel your date with Chuck – he’s a rapist.”

While it’s nice to be able to say “this is something you should check out,” it’s also quite obviously nice to say “this is a waste of time – avoid.”

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there would be more use in a like than a dislike. In a web of trillions of pages, there is clearly a sense in which telling what to avoid is silly, since in a human lifetime you will naturally avoid the overwhelming majority of the web. But for likely searched keywords and their limited ranking spots, I would just as much like to give a vote of hate and potentially save a friend some misery.

Google has not been without its complaints for poor and worsening search results. And they respond by allowing users only to socially vote for sites and their pages? Really?

Hiding From the Solution

Less than a month ago, Google supposedly launched a feature allowing users to hide sites from their search results. After visiting a page found through search results, you can hit ‘back’ and an option to block the site from future results pages will appear.

First of all, I can’t seem to get this option to appear anymore. Can anyone else? I am hoping there’s no connection here…

Second of all, how could this not be exactly the kind of thing that would integrate well socially? If I am sure I never want to see a particular site again, in the spirit of the +1 button, would I not, in most cases, want to at least suggest to my friends that the site I’m blocking is not worth visiting?

If you don’t want to incorporate this feature into the ranking algorithm, fine, but if you’re going to get social, you already have a precedent here for what is essentially a dislike – just no means to share it with anyone.

Work Around

There are actually numerous Facebook groups clamoring for a Dislike button, resorting to unofficial and potentially risky Firefox Add-Ons. Across all the breaches of Facebook etiquette, from nauseating self-quotes (”‘When the world is shadow, friendship is light’ – me”) to updates no one could begin to care about (”Eating breakfast. Should be a good day.”) to self-indulgent attention seeking (”SOOoOoOooo mad 2day!!!1″), the ability for the Dislike is just about self-evident.

When someone’s cool on Facebook, the Like offers an easy way for responders to offer their approval without fumbling through a poorly-written comment. When someone’s an asshole on Facebook, you have to wait until someone else articulates that the original poster is an asshole, and then Like their response. Or, if you’re not a coward, you can call them out yourself. But why the two-step?

Interestingly, YouTube, another Google property, allows dislikes/thumbs down. And y’know what? It’s part of the fun. People talk about the like/dislike breakdown in comments, which in YouTube’s case can be a welcome diversion from the usual slog.

Communities become truly social when they can reflect and comment on their own behaviour, and without dislikes, you can’t really get a sense of the behaviour. Disapproval is as fundamental to social interaction as approval. Are not stories of bad customer service more shared than of good service?

It’s Already Here!

Social news and content aggregators like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon have historically offered both up and down voting for a reason. Without an ability to filter crap, crap is what you get.

When Digg re-launched in their infamously horrific V4, they removed their downvote tool: the Bury button, the natural antithesis to a “digging”. The community flipped out in response, sure that doom was now impending, ironically unable to formally express their discontent, limited to in-comment rants.

With Digg now in version 4.whogivesacrapanymore, their once flourishing and active community has dwindled to sparse comments often at YouTube levels of inanity. And the Bury button has returned. Way too little, way too late.

Fortunately, in a way, Google never had a Bury equivalent to moronically remove. Instead, they are starting crippled, matching their equally cripply Zuckerbergian rival. Surely, the Digg lesson applies in search results. It’s only not obvious yet because Google users never really were a community, or rather, never acted as one. Google’s attempts at getting into social are smelling pretty strongly of Microsoft Failure Pie, trying to fit in with what’s current but awkwardly missing the point. On the bright side, they can’t do worse than they did with Google Wave or with Google Buzz, not to be confused with the equally irrelevant Yahoo! Buzz (which, incidentally, is a failed social news site where you can’t vote down…).

So is this some attempt at behaviour shaping through a lame “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything” gloss? I don’t like the vibe of this forced-to-be-happy-or-be-quiet space. We’re building an online nation of smiling yes people navigating search results crying out desperately for angry nos. As much as I want to entertain my friends and send them to good places, I want to protect them, too. All in all, I give this new Google service a score of -1.

Which is exactly what they need.

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