Google launched Google+ (their long-awaited social network) on Tuesday and, while everyone else seems to be asking "Will it kill Facebook?", it got me thinking about a general positive trend in social media.
Part of the Google Plus project is the +1 button for websites and pages which is billed as similar to Facebook's 'Like' and 'Recommend' options. Hitting the button on a particular page will, in Google's own words, say "this is pretty cool" or "you should check this out".
Notable by its absence is the counterbalancing option -- Google are giving us Google Plus -- what of Google Minus?
It's a similar question that which has been asked on Facebook for years -- "Where's the 'dislike' button?" There's even a 3 million strong Facebook page dedicated to that very question.
Looking at other well used social networking services you'll see a similar story. Twitter has favourites, Tumblr has liking -- heck, even socially influenced reality television shows such as X Factor are set up so viewer vote for the people they want to succeed rather than those they want to be eliminated.
The negative option seems to be becoming outdated. Older social recommendation sites like Digg and StumbleUpon still have their own versions of negative feedback but in both cases they're not as prominent as the positive. StumbleUpon's thumbs down is a physically smaller button on the toolbar and is missing the text that goes with the thumbs up. Digg actually got rid of their 'bury' function for a while due to abuses but then reinstated it. At the present moment is sits a distance away from the positive option and is far less prominent.
So what's this positivity trend about?
I think it's the result of two main things:
One is that the internet, for all its glory, is a place where anonymity often breeds negativity. It's all too easy to type out a spiteful comment because you will almost never see or have to deal with the results of that remark. The human connection that prevents a lot of callous real-world spite is missing.
Looking at the comments on sites can be quite the education (depending on the level of moderation) with commenters more likely to be moved to comment negatively than positively.
Even when the comments are more balanced, the negative is frequently more extreme and more personal. Comments about the writer's personal appearance, calls for them to be fired or to get a proper job form a contrast with the positive which tend towards the far less emotionally charged "I enjoyed the article" model.
Bearing this in mind, why introduce a button to fan the flames? Why would Facebook introduce a mechanism to enable bullying? Why would a news site introduce a method of undermining its staff? Why would a blogging platform build in a casual smackdown option? The point is to encourage communication -- what better way to ruin that than to admit via the interface that its users' content could be worthless?
The second is that the amount of content online is increasing at some astronomical rate.
Anyone with a stable connection can create something on the internet. And they do -- as evidenced by the proliferation of blogs, personal websites, home businesses, Twitter accounts and so on.
But not everyone is a genius and not every piece of content produced by a great content creator will be a sparkling tour de force.
What this means is that the great and the good and the fascinating are floating about in the swirling morass of content that Google is trying to organise and make searchable. When you start thinking in terms of Google and in terms of search, a Plus without a Minus starts to make more sense. Google has determined that the content we want to see is the stuff that is relevant, well written and interesting to others -- i.e. what we expect from the stuff on the first page of Google search results.
What only offering a positive option does is tacitly acknowledge the fact that the internet contains a lot of middling content and then ask its users to elevate the good from the rest.
When the end goal is to lift up and share the best, is there really any need to pick out the worst?