“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance” - Eric Schmidt.
When Google's Search Plus Your World (SPYW) first launched the company was taken to task over unduly prioritising Google hosted content - probably rightly so - and had to back down a degree or two.
With Authorship tied to Google+ it seems that we are heading back in that direction so the company have to be careful or might find themselves back in the firing line of the regulators.
Putting a face to the name
As has been said before, Google is trying to remove the faceless nature of the web with Authorship. While it is currently seen as having a quasi-SEO benefit - an author's image next to an item in a sea of blue links makes it pop out - a lot of this advantage will be lost once more "authors" sign up.
By attempting to use Authorship as a "quality" measure, we are outsourcing an element of trust: recognising that content is linked to a verified account provides an impression as to its quality.
The act of just connecting an account to content, however, is not strictly a demonstration of quality but it is a demonstration of the author's willingness to be publicly and visibly linked to that content as if to say "I'm proud of this" or "I'm right, this is the result you want."
Whether, on the whole, we can infer any degree of quality from this scheme remains to be seen but the implied threat within Schmidt's statement above means that we see a fundamental shift in the way SEO operates: those that don't sign up to Authorship being penalised rather than those that do seeing a benefit.
Trust, reputation, identity - content creators will be (and already are) relying on Authorship to help establish personal branding, but by limiting the "verified" accounts for Authorship to Google+ is too restrictive on different levels.
While we have the ability to search with or without social signals and, currently search on Plus is separate from traditional blue links, introducing greater emphasis on Google based signals could get them in more trouble with the regulators.
Enabling content creators to visibly connect their work to an online identity via Authorship is a fantastic idea and someone does indeed need to tackle the faceless nature of the web but maybe Google should think about opening Authorship to avoid the inevitable cries of "monopoly!"
As mentioned above, Authorship (and the concept of Author Rank) could be seen as having an implied SEO threat if you do not have a Google+ profile: no profile = poor search engine visibility, but is that really the case?
A post by Ruud Hein at Search Engine People tries to flesh out this statement by saying that a "verified online profile" doesn't just have to mean a Google+ profile. While nothing in Schmidt's statement precludes the use of other identity providers, the current reality is that Google+ is the only option available.
What if Authorship, and consequently its associated Google Juice, wasn't solely reliant on a G+ profile and that other, trusted identification systems were permitted?
Should Google allow us to establish Authorship with a Twitter profile, for example? Perhaps Twitter could extend the verification process (maybe even for a small fee) to become more trusted - who we are, what we do, what is our field, etc. and this could then be relied upon by Google to establish a meaningful identity that we can hang Authorship upon.
What if academics, professors, researchers, etc. could use their EDU credentials as the basis of a trusted identity for the purposes of Authorship? How about business professionals using their LinkedIn profile?
Any web-wide system needs to be as inclusive as possible to both work and be seen as reliable or trustworthy.
Google should be applauded for trying to standardise, or make sense, of identity on the web so that we have a system we can trust - Authorship is such a system. However, being both a "search provider" and a "service provider" can lead to potential conflicts of interest which need to be resolved.