As Google continues to integrate the Plus social layer across its ecosystem are we actually gaining from the process?
Arguments over Google changing the like & dislike voting buttons on YouTube, as prompted by Wil Wheaton's outburst, raise a number of issues despite the company currently only testing a range of alternatives.
The primary concern is that a move to using a +1 button instead of the traditional "thumbs up" would force users to join Google's social network. To play devil's advocate we already have to sign in with a Google account to like or dislike anyway so what's the problem?
Unlike Search Plus Your World where personalised search is off for those not logged in, and can be turned off by default for logged in users, the forcing of the +1 button on YouTube users could be the first major stumbling block for Plus where there is no option but to use the new functionality.
The +1 button is akin to Facebook's Like and as you can only click that if you have a Facebook account (which over 900 million do) you'd think people would be used to that kind of arrangement, right? As Google has explained to Danny Sullivan at Marketing Land:
"People are familiar with the concept of liking and following brands, businesses and activities in a social context."
Has Google taken away something functional and replaced it with a limited alternative? We have to deal with change on a regular basis but when those changes are non-equivalent have they gone too far?
Under the new arrangement you would need a Google+ account to "like" a video but, as has been evidenced, not everyone wants to go this route. As regular users will be logged in with their YouTube account and this is required to rate items why can't Google just auto-upgrade all accounts to Plus accounts providing they give sufficient warning? What are the implications of doing so?
Would there be a privacy outcry over doing this?
There should be two levels at work here:
- having an upgraded account that enables the new functionality, and
- actually configuring that account to share your actions.
Perception and direction
The perception that Plus is just a social network (prompting backlash because users don't want to join) is the issue here. In my view there needs to be a distinction made between the new upgraded account and the social networking service as an application within Google's ecosystem.
In September 2010 when we had all sorts of rumours about where Google would be going with social, or what it's offering would be called, I asked "Is Google.Me a concept or a network?"
Back then we had no idea over the direction Google was heading, whether there would be an actual social network or just the idea of the social layer, and this confusion has carried through to today in the minds of many even after the"service" has been up and running for almost a year (including the limited access period prior to public availability).
The new Google
Google tells us that Plus is Google, a new Google where services play nicely together and talk to each other but the name is also synonymous with the social networking component hence the confusion.
Having an upgraded Google account, which would enable users to take advantage of certain cross-service functionality, should be separate from specifically using Plus the social network service. Google would still gather data from our behaviour and usage but the network would not be forced on users; instead; users could be left to decide if they wanted to activate it.
We choose to use Blogger, we choose to use YouTube, we choose to use Docs so why should Plus the network be any different.
Do we lose out with +1?
Account issues aside do we lose out with the +1 button? Just as with "Like" we only have the option to express positive sentiment - we can only upvote and not downvote. We have no way of expressing our dislike of an item without having to resort to writing a comment but is this a problem?
Does an environment such as YouTube actually benefit from having the ability to downvote when we can flag an item if we find it inappropriate? There have been calls for a Facebook Dislike button and a -1 button for a while but do we actually need them in most situations?
By removing the ability to dislike are we losing a way to show what we are most definitely not interested in? Alternatively, is it a case that in a world of positive sentiment this could be implied by not liking something (perhaps the lack of a social signal is just as powerful as a positive action) and in the Plusverse Google has given us ignore and block.
Downvoting helps when we are looking at ranking items like responses to questions - the up and down arrows on Quora for example - crowd sourcing opinion in this way is incredibly useful but I am not convinced of the need in certain other places.
In summary, I can appreciate why Google wants a unified account system easily sharing data between services but confusion arises when this social layer approach is synonymous with a separate social networking service. It is easy to understand the resentment of forcing the latter upon users just to take advantage of the benefits.
Why not discuss this post on Google+