After over a year of sitting in relative obscurity, Google Profiles are finally getting their due. Beginning today Google search queries for names will now feature a section dedicated to Google Profile results at the bottom of every page. These profiles allow people to fill out their basic information, like current employer and links to various web presences, without having to maintain a personal website and try to struggle to maintain a high page-rank.
This is huge news for several reasons. For one, Google is beginning to encroach on a territory long dominated by LinkedIn. For years, when I’ve wanted to learn about someone’s basic information and web presences (assuming they weren’t in CrunchBase), I’ve generally looked at LinkedIn, where many people have at least filled out their basic background info, a website, and some contact information. Google Profiles may not have LinkedIn’s social graph, but as a web directory they’ll work just fine, and they’ll have the benefit of appearing on the front page of search results every time.
It’s also obviously huge news to the countless people who happen to share the same name as a popular athlete, celebrity, or business person. Take former TechCrunch writer Mark Hendrickson for example, who happens to share a name with Mark Hendrickson, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles who dominates most of the front page of search results for the name. Under the new system, both Marks would be listed as thumbnails toward the bottom of the first page of results. Maybe.
Google is allocating four thumbnail spots to these profiles at the bottom of search results – anyone who doesn’t appear in those four spots can be found by clicking a link to show more results. Obviously, nabbing one of these four thumbnail spots is going to very desirable to some people. But true to Google form, the choices for the thumbnails are driven by a mysterious algorithm. Google wouldn’t offer too many details on how the algorithm works, other than that it will heavily favor profiles that are ‘complete’ – in fact, when you fill out your profile it will indicate if Google has deemed it ‘complete’ enough to appear as a thumbnail. But even if you get the OK, there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever get one of the four spots.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the way Google profiles are named that may deter some users from taking advantage of them. Google is intent on using the same ‘name space’ as Gmail – that is to say, if my Gmail account was firstname.lastname@example.org, my Google Profile would be found at http://www.google.com/profiles/Jason. This is primarily to prevent confusion, but it raises privacy concerns for anyone who isn’t too keen on having their Email address publicly available on the internet (you can always opt out, but then you’re forced to create a new account if you want to appear in the listings). Update: You can also choose to substitute a string of numbers for your profile URL instead of your account name, though this obviously wouldn’t be ideal for business cards or other methods of sharing.
You can register a new account and get a recently-launched vanity listing , but nearly all of the ‘good’ names have been registered by Gmail users over the years so your profile will likely wind up looking something like jason83472.
Despite these frustrations, this is a new feature that I suspect will prove immensely popular – and important. To help promote it, Google is going to start routing any queries for the name ‘me’ (a play on the phrase “Google me..”) to a link to create a new Google profile.