Google's Social Carrot and Search Stick

Google released its quarterly earnings report Thursday, handily beating expectations and sending the company's share price up more than 12% in after hours trading. Nice quarter, Google! You have convinced me that the entire global economy isn't collapsing. At least not yet.

The company also took the opportunity to tout the success of the +1 button, a lovely of example of which you can see and click on (please!) at the top of this page. The button is part of Google's answer to Facebook, and launched a while before the company's full-fledged social service, Google+. It turns out that each day, Google serves the +1 button 2.3 billion times and people share a billion items. Those numbers are supposed to be a sign of Google's social web success, and it probably is.

But to create some of that momentum, Google had to bring some leverage to bear on content producers of all kinds to integrate the button into their sites. They said that they were tying search result rankings to the +1 button. Suddenly, every website in America had serious incentive to get people clicking on that +1 button. Every content producers became a proponent of the Google system. How could you not? Sure, maybe Google +1s would drive some traffic (the carrot) but you really had to get with Google's program because they were using the search engine itself as the lever. And in the Internet business, the search engine is like Lola: whatever the search engine wants, the search engine gets.

There is a public-good carrot,  too. Now Google is getting 2.3 billion datapoints per day about what people do and do not like. That's probably going to make search better, even as people try to game it. If your community really loves your work, they'll +1 the stories in an organic way, helping them float up Google's various algorithmic rankings (News, Search, etc).  In short, it brings a human element to Google's search rankings, and at least conceptually, that's a good thing. Maybe that'll help weed out some of the content farm trash that nobody likes except for Google's spiders.

I should stop there, though, and get back to recruiting my army of middle school students, who will troll Atlantic stories +1ing stories. If you've got kids with too much time on their hands, feel free to send them along to me. (Just kidding. I think.)