Monday, July 25, 2011

Will Google +1 Help Attorneys?

Questions are beginning to swell amongst attorneys about Google’s latest answer to social media – Google +1. Around three weeks ago, Google released the Google +1 button to accompany their search engine results and try to better combat the growing significance and threat from major social media providers like Facebook.

Since its launch, Google has now surpassed over 20 million users in a matter of weeks- something their last failed attempt at social media (Google Buzz) was never able to accomplish. Since Google +1 is prominently displayed to the right of each search engine results, do people truly see some value here or are they following like sheep so they don’t miss out on another saga of the social media revolution?

What Is Google +1?

Most attorneys I talk to still do not understand what Google +1 really is. The best way to describe this new feature is to think about the Facebook “like” buttons you are increasingly seeing on websites, blogs, etc. The “like” buttons will commonly show the button, the number of people who has indicated a like and a list of pictures of these people. Google +1 works in a similar manner (surprise!) yet here are the major differences:

  • Google +1 is designed to show their +1 button in their search results screen next to results
  • Google +1 accompany non-Google (i.e. anybody’s) provided websites
  • Google +1 will NOT provide/share this data to the website provider
  • Google +1 will ONLY show you a list of the people in your “social connections”

What Does Google Define As Your “Social Connections?”

According to Google, data for their social connections are derived from four primary sources of data:

When looking at this list, you cannot help to notice what is missing: Facebook (with 750 million users) and Twitter (with 200 million users). Instead, these “social connections” are a Google property…which leads me to my next question: How many people use these Google properties? Here is what I know:

Gmail: as of November of 2010, Gmail had around 193 million monthly users. Chat lists are auto-created from people you commonly email with on Gmail. Many people have multiple Gmail accounts. As for contacts, do most people create and maintain their contacts with Google contacts? Why would they maintain them there and on their smart phones, and Outlook, etc.?

Google Circles: This is Google’s recent answer to Facebook lists – namely allowing people to create circles (or groups) of people in which you can more easily collaborate and share information with. The technology around this seems very interesting but much like Facebook lists – will the masses every really start using it?

Google Reader is simply an RSS aggregator that people will commonly use to centralize, review and access news from multiple sources (i.e. websites, blogs, etc.). I have been providing legal education and discussing the power of Google reader for years now but continue to find that most people simply do not use it – either regularly or at all.

So What Does All This Mean For Google +1?

When Facebook redefined social media, it created a tremor across the entire internet…including the search engines. Ever since then, search engines like Google now see applications like Facebook as a threat to their “follow the yellow brick road” model they have created for themselves. In short, social media creates “alternatives to search” that threatens the very heart of Google’s growth models.

My biggest question around Google +1 is the data they are using for their social connections. In many cases, these sources are Google sources and are not social media related and/or are not heavily used in any quantities that would rival Facebook. So based on this, I would seriously question exactly what benefits are provided to the average +1 user and whether or not they will now take the extra steps to make this yet another social media outreach a success.

Yes, Google has had an impressive start right of the gate with 20 million users but is it sustainable? Will it come anywhere close to rivaling Facebook for the same benefits provided? Google has recently indicated that Google +1 could now potentially impact the search rankings for +1 users based on their connections. But this of course is based on how m any people will actually use +1 and whether or not they will continue to be receptive to Google’s threats to continue change their search results displayed…which might go a long way to explaining the 20 million reasons why so many people initially jumped on their boat here.

What Attorneys Can Possibly Gain From Google +1

From an attorney marketing perspective, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of Google +1 for attorney marketing online and based on my assessment above, I have my doubts. But there may be another benefit for attorneys beyond marketing...

Many attorneys have had a hay day as of late with the growing usage of social media evidence used in e-discovery and legal actions. Due to Google’s arguably lose policies on user privacy, one has to wonder how these new “Google Circles” could potentially provide yet another great source of evidence in a court of law. And how about all the international governmental issues Google has been dealing with over the years? What if another government like China wants Google Circle data on users turned over in exchange for Google operating in China? All these questions make for some very interesting potential legal hurdles ahead…

Of course, the legal use of Google + data will only be as strong as people’s willingness to use it. Based on my observations at this point, I have my doubts. In the end, isn’t Google a search engine and Microsoft a software system provider and Facebook a social media giant? I sometimes wonder what companies sitting on billions of dollars in cash now think they are when they often forget what they are.

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