The Google+ Experiment

Google+ has been the talk of the Web since it went into an exclusive beta test environment back on June 28, 2011.

For the first part of the invite only phase, people were clamoring for invites. A search for Google+ meant weeding through the throngs of web pages either pleading for an invite or those offering them, and even though the social network is now open to everyone those sites still clog up the SERPs for that term.

People wanted them so badly that some of the lucky ones to receive an early invite were selling off their 150 invitations on eBay, Craigslist and anywhere else they could find buyers.

And when it was only open to early adopters, Google+ was a nice place to meet up, share resources and follow interesting people. The level of spam was relatively low during the first 20 million people because it was policed by the users.

Of course opening it up changed all of that.

A couple of public posts regarding spam on Google+ read:

Oof. So much G+ spam, typically in the form of “[fake-sounding or often Russian or Indian name] has shared a private post with you.” What a deluge in the last 48 hours. Bet the G+ dev team has their hands full with this issue right now. Update: shortly after posting this whiney G+ complaint, a spammer invaded the comments on this very post, with a “normal/non-foreign-sounding,” white, female, American profile. :-)

I’m seeing the amount of spam growing exponentially since G+ opened to everyone. Are you?

Comment spam is getting really bad on G+. I would prefer to have a moderation queue rather than have comments show up directly. It’s getting to the point where it is difficult to keep up with the deleting & blocking of spam on my posts.

How can I block people in Google+? More an more spam here.

So it is definitely becoming a serious and annoying problem for many plusers to deal with.

But is that what Google had intended all along?

In an interesting post by Barry Adams for the State of Search blog, the author calls Google out and asks the question, is Google+ a honeytrap to study future search metrics?

The Case For

Despite any preconceived prejudices you have against Google there is one thing for certain, they truly care about the quality of their search results. And they are trying to keep them as solid as possible.

The latest Panda, or Farmer, update provides a stable argument for this as it was geared towards reducing the amount of content spam from the search engine results pages, or SERPS, and devaluing any links from content farms and other forms of link spam.

But Google also knows that the future of search lies within the social metric, not only the link metrics states Adams. So it needs to know how social media can be used to effect rankings. Since spam is a pervasive problem in social media through comment spam, fake shares and votes that are bought for pennies, Google needs to know just how social signals can best serve their ranking algorithms without giving spammers another avenue to exploit.

“I believe Google+ is a huge laboratory designed to analyse social behaviour in an effort to develop algorithms that can, with a high degree of accuracy, detect genuine and authentic shares and upvotes and let those count in Google’s search ranking mechanisms,” claims Adams.

And this wouldn’t be the first time Google released a product that merely served as a laboratory for something greater.

Ever used Goog 411? Many people did because it offered free directory information services instead of the pricey ones offered by phone companies.

But what Google was really doing was building a phoneme database from these voice queries so it could build a quality speech recognition engine for their voice search.

Pretty smart on their part, huh?

The Case Against

Of course, Google may just be offering its social network because it knows that in order to stay relevant, it needs to offer products that are relevant.

People share so much through Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and other social tools because users trust what others recommend more than they do a search engine spider. So while shares and votes are certainly going to be part of Google’s algorithm, it could also be that they know the playing field is changing and they had better adapt.

Written by Jeff


  1. Alan Manders · September 29, 2011

    I tend to think that Google isn’t doing giant moves and product launches just to set up other products, but they have enough intelligent creative people on their staff that they can intelligently do things with the data they get from their existing products. The trick they’ve mastered is giving something people want that at the same time offers them significant benefits.

  2. Ross Diamond · September 30, 2011

    Google + and Google (the search engine) are separate platforms. They’re independent from each other. Well, this is the theory. But in reality, Google + will be Google’s (the search engine) main tool for their search metrics.

    For now, it is through the + button. In the future, it will involve complex and comprehensive metrices – such as what you’ll share or post on your Google + Stream.

    The social media and search engine industries are not that different. In fact, they’re getting more and more joined together as the Internet evolves. Who knows what Web 3.0 can lead us.

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