Google doesn't launch Circles, but may let Likes in +1

Last week the world and their dog barked on about Google unveiling Circles, it’s own social network, at SXSW in Texas. This didn’t happen, and we’re all still left guessing as to the future of this rather mysterious, unconfirmed project.
If true, then Google obviously believes it can bring something new to the table. Let’s hope so, because as a PR agency specialising in social media, we know only too well how many online communities exist, and how time consuming they can be. So, is there really room for another soapbox?
Well we shall see. Blog site The Next Web claims the network will arrive sometime in May, but may be called Google Me, while O’ Reilly Media founder Tim O’ Reilly Tweeted recently that he had seen Circles, and it looked ‘awesome’. This statement was then retracted; with the man in question claiming what he actually saw was just lab data.
So who knows what will happen. Whether the new network materialises or not, Google has certainly taught a few people a thing or two about the power of speculation, and (lack of) information. And, even if this rumour mill produces nothing, this year is expected to see a huge development in how the web gatekeepers treat social media activity, within the context of internet rankings.
SEO experts are increasingly predicting that Facebook ‘Likes’, in the same way as Tweets and re-Tweets, will soon be taken into account by Google and similar sites when they organise search results. This could signal big changes in the way people approach content creation and management. However, as with all good web-optimisation, the best practice is to consider all aspects of the (often lengthy) process.
Trying to jump up the results page by using your followers’ followers as a platform will do no more good than cramming a page full of keywords and adopting a protectionist policy towards linking in other websites. So, as the age-old adage goes, keep calm and carry on. Times are changing, but only a fool jumps ship at the first wave. Still, it’s always important to stay up to date, meaning Google’s new +1 also needs referencing.
Now when people sign in with a Google profile all web results will appear with a +1 button. Pressing it is similar to ‘Liking’ something, and will allow others to see what’s popular, and with who (via Gmail, Google Reader, and soon Twitter contact books). At the moment this doesn’t influence rankings directly, because only two per cent of users in the US have the service, but it’s only a matter of time until it does.
Again, this is really one small addition to a computer screen, but one giant leap for anyone with online interests. In both the cases, this gives users more control over the online keyhole, takes the emphasis away from the ‘black arts’ of web publishing, and creates a more pluralistic landscape wherein a range of factors, not just technical prowess, will mean the difference between success and failure. Or at least it should once we all get access.