Fri, Apr 01, 2011 - Page 10 News List

Google takes on Facebook with latest social tweak

Reuters, SAN FRANCISCO and SEATTLE

Google Inc will begin allowing users to personally endorse search results and Web pages, its latest attempt to stave off rival Facebook Inc while trying to jump onboard a social networking boom.

The so-called “+1” button will start to appear alongside Google search results for select users from Wednesday, letting people recommend specific search results to friends and contacts by clicking on that button.

Eventually, the feature may begin to influence the ranking of search results, though that is only under consideration. Results are now ranked via a closely guarded algorithm.

The world’s leader in Internet search is battling to maintain its share of Web surfers’ time and attention, which is increasingly getting taken up by Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. However, it has struggled to find its footing in the nascent market.

Its last attempt to create a social network — Buzz — has not fared well. A flood of complaints about how Buzz handled user privacy cast a pall over the product. On Wednesday, Google announced it had reached a settlement with regulators under which it agreed to independent privacy audits every two years.

With the new +1 buttons, Google aims to counter one of Facebook’s most popular features. The new feature comes nearly a year after Facebook began offering special “Like” buttons to Web sites, creating a personalized recommendation system that some analysts believe could challenge the traditional ranking algorithms that search engines use to find online information.

Google said that +1 recommendations would also appear in the paid ads that Google displays alongside its search results. In its internal tests, Google found that including the recommendations boosted the rates at which people click on the ads, executives said in an interview on Tuesday.

Eventually, Google plans to let third-party Web sites feature +1 buttons directly on their own pages, the company said.

Google’s Matt Cutts, a principal engineer for search, said the +1 buttons were part of the evolution of Google’s own social search efforts, rather than a direct response to Facebook’s Like buttons.

“We always keep an eye out on what other people are doing, but for me the compelling value is just that it’s right there in the search results,” Cutts said.

Google introduced social search in 2009, and in February the company began displaying special snippets underneath any search results that have been shared by a person’s contacts on Twitter, the popular Internet microblogging service.

Google’s Cutts said the company was evaluating whether to use +1 recommendations as a ranking factor in the future.

Separately, Microsoft Corp stepped up its rivalry with Google yesterday by filing a formal complaint with the European Commission claiming Google systematically thwarts Internet search competition.

It is the first time Microsoft — itself the target of anticompetition action in the US and Europe — has filed a complaint with regulators over competition issues.

In its complaint, Microsoft claims Google engages in a “pattern of actions” that impede competition unfairly, giving numerous examples of what it believes are anticompetitive acts.

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