Google is now shaping its Google+ social network for commerce.
Google says its new business pages are designed to help businesses have more interaction and even face-to-face time with their customers. While the program isn't yet open for anyone to join, Google is promoting several businesses and organizations that have already signed on and created their own pages such as the Dallas Cowboys, Pepsi, Toyota and, yes, the Muppets.
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So what perks await businesses that take the plunge and start their own Google+ pages? For one there's the obvious advantage of having your customers recommend you to their friends by giving you a "+1" on your page. You can also have more direct face-to-face interaction with your customers by scheduling hangouts where you live-videochat with them and answer questions. Google promoted this particular feature by having an inaugural hangout with Kermit and Miss Piggy for Muppets fans to join.
And of course, Google has added a key search component to this whole scheme: If you do a search with the "+" symbol as the prefix and the company name you're looking for, Google will take you right to their Google+ page so you can add them to your circles. While this feature only works for a limited number of pages right now, Google will be expanding it to the business community at large in coming months.
The addition of Google+ pages to Google's search engine could further fuel controversy about Google utilizing its immense power as a search engine to favor its own secondary services in its search results over those of its competitors. This past fall Google Chairman Eric Schmidt tried to diffuse criticism of the company by appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and denying that his company wielded its market power inappropriately.
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For instance, Wisconsin Democrat Herbert Kohl quoted Google Vice President Marissa Mayer as saying that Google favored its own Google Finance search results whenever users search for stock market quotes on publicly traded companies. Schmidt responded that Google's goal was to take out extra steps from users' search, so if they entered "Microsoft stock" into the search engine the first result would be a chart featuring the latest quote from Microsoft's share price. Similarly, when someone types an address into the search engine they are first given a map provided by Google Maps rather than a link to a competing map site.
Minnesota Democrat Al Franken said during the hearing that scrutinizing Google's search practices was particularly important since the search engine had also come to dominate the mobile market as the default search engine on the Apple iPhone and on all of its own Android-based mobile devices. He also said that while he appreciated the way that Google "utterly transformed the way we use information," the company's "unprecedented growth is one of the reasons we need to pay attention to what you're doing."
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