Google Plus in the News

Google opened its social network to limited public trials less than a month ago, but the media can’t seem to get enough of it. Keep reading for some stories featuring Google+ and Google’s +1 feature front and center.

I’ll lead off with a story that anyone who’s been in the field since Google+ came on the scene expected to happen. The Atlantic gives the full story. Basically, companies are already trying to game Google’s “+1” social signal by offering packages of them for sale.

In this case, it’s Plussem.com, a branch of SEOShop.com. The Atlantic article stated that they’re offering 50 plus ones for $10, 250 for $30, or 2,000 for $170.  A visit to the website reveals they’ve raised their prices significantly; at the time of this writing, 50 plus ones went for $19.99, 250 for $69.99, and 2,000 for $359.99 – and that last package was “currently offline due to high demand!”

You have to love the hypocrisy here. Plussem.com states on its site that “Buying Plus Ones can help your site out by showing Google that the content featured on it or the page being Plussed is of value to real people and not spammy.” In other words, they’re urging you to show Google that your site isn’t spammy – by spamming. If you have the stomach to read more, here’s Plussem’s grammatically- and politically-incorrect explanation of the significance of Google’s “+1” button and why you should buy Plussem’s package: “Google are now striking back at Facebook with there version of the Like button. This will be used to judge contents worth by using real people to rate it rather than there own bots. To cheat the searching algorithm be sure to get the ball rolling for your site by purchasing Plus Ones.” 

Greg Finn, writing for Search Engine Land notes that you can easily find services like this for sites such as Digg, Facebook, and Twitter, so it’s no surprise that someone’s trying it with Google’s +1. Finn also explains why you should never use services like this. Even if you get real people clicking that +1, as Plussem promises, what are the odds that the interests and other aspects of their profile will match what you’re offering? If they don’t, it raises relevancy issues. “By paying for non-relevant users to vote or like your content on a social network you are effectively muddying your message,” Finn explains, which will most likely hurt your long-term strategy while violating Google’s quality guidelines.

Meanwhile, Google made a purchase recently that could indicate some features they’re planning to add to Google Plus. The purchase, PittPatt, is a company that specializes in facial recognition technology. Search Engine Watch, in reporting the story, made a number of suggestions as to how Google might use its technology.

Before you assume that this is merely the kind of technology that finds and recognizes faces in a still picture, you need to know that PittPatt got its start back in 2004 at Carnegie Mellon; in the seven years it’s been in existence, PittPatt has come up with a number of ways to use the technology. Sure, it can recognize which face belongs to which person, but it can also check out how many people a video camera sees, how they move over long stretches of time, how popular certain areas are (such as kiosks or small businesses in a mall), and so forth.

The first thought that comes to mind for the technology involves identifying who appears in a posted image – but Facebook tried to implement that feature and got a ton of negative feedback for its trouble. It probably went about adding the capability the wrong way, as it so often does; even so, it left a bad enough taste that Google may start to use PittPatt’s facial recognition technology somewhere else.

The question is, where? Search Engine Watch thinks that Hangouts, Google Plus’s group video chat tool, could benefit the most. “From video analytics tools to more precise focusing on the ‘right person’ (the speaker) during a video conference, PittPatt’s technology could have great impact here.”

Finally, a note from Robert Scoble on Google+ revealed that Google is trying to make up for some of the missteps they’ve taken in handling names. He reported speaking with Google VP Vic Gundotra, who said that Google is trying to set a positive tone, “Like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.” It’s not about forcing people to use their legal names; it’s about “having common names and removing people who spell their names in weird ways, like using upside-down characters, or who are using obviously fake names, like ‘god’ or worse.” I hope they realize that “Jesus” is a pretty common name in certain groups.

Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product Management for Google Plus, posted a long comment after Scoble’s post on Google+ to try to clear things up even further. He explained that “many violations of the Google+ common name policy were in fact well-intentioned and inadvertent and for these users our process can be frustrating and disappointing.” But they’re working very hard on improving the process, “specifically…how we notify these users that they’re not in compliance…and how we communicate the remedies available to them.” For example, they plan to give users who are not in compliance a warning and a chance to correct their name before they’re suspended. At the time of the notice, they’ll also indicate how the user can change their name to conform to Google Plus’s community standards. Horowitz also made some suggestions as to how people can handle nicknames they might want to include to make it easier for their friends to find them on Google Plus. Judging from the comments, though, Google will have their work cut out for them in solving this problem.

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