Google now looks to be experimenting with a new use for the like button in the Discover stream. In a limited test, the Discover stream now includes a like counter for individual articles and videos, indicating how many other Google Search users have upvoted a post.
The like count can be a useful metric in determining what to read when perusing news and blog posts on social media. Following the demise of Google+, the company hasn't had a true social networking app in years.
However, leaving a good or negative comment on an article in the Google Discover feed has been possible for a long time. The feedback system was designed to help users refine their particular tastes by allowing users to upvote things they enjoy and downvote those they don't. The love button was eventually replaced by a "Not interested in this" option inside a menu, and the downvote was replaced by a "Not interested in this" option within a menu.
The update signals a potentially significant shift in the Discover stream. There would be a visible gauge for potential readers to see how well-received a piece of content is. Smaller publications that are trying to get their material into more people's Discover feeds may feel compelled to push users to click the like button as a result of this.
Meanwhile, there's no sign that clicking the like buttons on the Discover feed does anything other than help users curate their own stream today. Some people may be surprised to learn that their comments are shared (anonymously) as a recommendation for others.
For the time being, the experimental like counter has only been found in a carousel of articles all referring to the same subject. It appears to be even more limited, as the like count was only seen on a single device in a single refresh of the Google Discover stream.