Google’s Creepy Profiles

Google Profile

Google Profile

Google unveiled a bold new product last week; one of critical and compelling import to anyone who believes that their online reputation is important.  I’m not talking about Google Buzz.  I’m talking about Google Profiles.  This isn’t a new service — Google introduced the profile pages a few years ago.  But the release of Google Buzz has illuminated how important they are in Google’s plans, and how important they can be for us.  And if this profile is now a major component in my personal branding strategy, I demand better tools to manage it than Google has provided.

About a year ago, Google pointed out that, if you have a populated Google Profile, they will include it below the search results when people google your name. So, for someone like me — who does want to be easily located on the web, but has a reasonably common name, this seemed like a good deal, and I filled out my profile.  As a result, I’m prominently placed in the profile links when you search for my name, even though I’m about the fifth best known “Peter Campbell” on the web.

A Google Profile page contains four important pieces:

  • Biographical information about you.
  • Links to your important web sites.
  • Secured contact information.
  • Google Buzz integration.

The bio and links are much like other online profiles, such as Yahoo! and Facebook.  The contact info option is interesting, as you can share it with groups defined in your Google Contacts.  I can’t see a good reason to do this, as any group I’d be willing to share with (such as “family”) already knows how to find me and, if they don’t, they aren’t going to think to look at my Google Profile(!). So I’ve left this blank, as it seems like better security to not publish my address and phone number online if I don’t have a good reason to.

The Buzz integration is particularly worrisome.  First, by default, Buzz publishes your connections to your profile.  It’s easy to turn off, and recommended if you have any concern about anyone in the world knowing who your online friends are.  I turned this right off.

Second, your Buzz stream is published to the profile as well. So consider that — anything you say on Buzz gets added to your profile, which might be prominently placed in search results for your name (whereas your buzzes might not be).  We all know that employers are getting savvy, and searching the web for info about us as part of a candidate review.  But I assume that an employer seeing my Twitter stream on Twitter will bear in mind the context — Twitter, like Buzz, is a conversational medium.  A profile is much more like a resume.  I may well buzz about my favorite Doctor Who episode, but I’m not going to discuss TV shows on my resume…

The furor over Buzz’s privacy violations at rollout were really much more about the profiles — many new Buzz users didn’t even know they had  a Google Profile prior.

So, Google — I hope you’re listening.  If my Google Profile is going to factor more and more into my online identity — and the way that Buzz both highlights it and depends on it suggests so — you need to give me more tools and flexibility about how that profile looks and what information it contains.  Here’s what would make me feel like I have a profile on the web, as opposed to Google having a dossier on me on the web:

  • Less structured content.  The “what can’t you find on Google” question is cute, but it’s not a key component of my personal branding.  Get rid of the cute stuff, and give me more options to share the info that I want to share, not that you necessarily want to hear.
  • A logo, stylesheet, and other basic web design tools.  I’d like this to look more like this blog, with the black background and the Techcafeteria logo.
  • My own tabs, and the ability to remove the extra tabs that you think I should have.  Mostly, the decision to publish my Buzz feed to my profile should be mine, not yours.  Make that optional, but add the ability to add new tabs and link them to other websites or RSS sources.

For an example, look at my home site at http://techcafeteria.com.  That is a profile, with info about me; lifestreaming; shared resources via RSS; and a contact form.  If Google Profiles could do what I ask, I’d scrap the current Techcafeteria site and link this blog, along with my other feeds, directly to my Google Profile, and redirect both techcafeteria.com and peterscampbell.com to it.

Until then, that’s not my profile.  That’s Google’s profile of me, and it’s a bit creepy.

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One thought on “Google’s Creepy Profiles

  1. Sue Anne

    I hadn’t played around with my Google profile much before this past week, and I was surprised about how little flexibility and customization there is available. I like your ideas and hopefully someone at Google will see this and other comments and add some customization.

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