Google mimics Facebook with new +1 button

By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Facebook has the "Like" button. Now Google has the "+1" button.

In Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) latest attempt to become relevant in the social networking space, the search giant on Wednesday unveiled a new tool that allows people to share helpful search links with their friends.

The +1 button will soon appear next to links on Google's search results page. By clicking the button, users will be able to recommend links to their list of Gmail chat buddies and those in their Gmail "My Contacts" group. The button will work both with search links and advertisements on the results page.

In a blog post introducing the feature, Google declared that the +1 button is "digital shorthand for 'this is pretty cool.'" It's meant to help guide friends through search results, allowing them to see what people they know think is most useful. It adds a human element to Google's automated search algorithm.

As an example, Google said that if you're looking for a new pasta recipe, search results could be populated with +1's from your "culinary genius" friend. You could also, for instance, see how many people recommend your local coffee shop.

For now, Google is limiting +1 to its search results, but in the coming weeks, the company said it will start introducing the buttons on other Google products.

Google also plans to offer the buttons up to third-party websites, as Facebook did with its Like button. It currently has such a button for Google Buzz, and some analysts speculate that +1 will eventually replace the Buzz button.

Google has struggled to develop its social business. Its first attempt at a social network, Orkut, has not caught on in most places in the world (though it remains popular in Brazil). Its second attempt, Buzz, encountered a Buzz-killing privacy debacle at launch.

In an ironic twist, Google also on Wednesday announced a settlement deal with the Federal Trade Commission over charges stemming from its Buzz misfire. The FTC said that Google "used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises" when it launched Buzz. The company has agreed to implement a privacy program and undergo independent privacy audits for the next 20 years.

The +1 launch appears to be part of what outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt described as "layers" of social across the Web rather than yet another attempt at a Facebook-like social network solution. Schmidt has repeatedly maintained that Google does not compete with Facebook, saying Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) is the company's biggest rival.

Still, Facebook is dashing past Google in many Internet milestones. Web users now spend more time on Facebook than Google. And most recently, according to Hitwise, Facebook passed Google as the most-visited website on the Internet. (See correction below.)

For now, however, Google says it is focused on social as a way to power search. It's experimenting with the idea that those you know will be even better search guides than its famed algorithms.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Facebook had topped Google for the lead in the number of website referrals. To top of page

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