In a recent post I suggested that Google might replace Facebook. I was talking about Google Profiles but I must apologize for my over-enthusiasm. As I begin poking around in the Google Profile world I find there are some very loose ends.
To help you better understand my concerns, perhaps you would like to check out whether Google knows about you, or at least has a profile on you. That may be the biggest surprise you’ll get from this post but there are more to come. Why not search for yourself and then use your back button to come back here:
Here is how Google describes some features of Google Profiles:
A Google Profile allows you to control how you appear on Google and tells others a bit more about who you are. With a Google Profile, you can easily share your web content on one central location. You have control over what others see.
That sounds good as far as it goes. However it mentions that if you’ve been writing reviews on Google Maps, creating articles on Google Knol, sharing Google Reader items, or adding books to your Google Book Search library, you may already have a Profile.
The Google Profiles team clearly see all this as a work in progress.
We’re still working to improve profiles on Google. Please submit your suggestions and comments to help us decide where to go next.
Perhaps before you get too involved, you might wish to check out how well this Profile system is supported in Google. (Note that these are comments as of today and the profiles might be changed in the future.) Larry Page does not seem to have a profile. Eric Schmidt does have a profile which could be described as adequate. Sergey Brin on the other hand rather surprisingly has his profile in Portuguese. Here is how it looks today, although clearly it may have changed by the time you go to see it. (Now blocked – see Google Profiles Update April 21
More seriously I believe Google profiles have some more major problems. Search for Matt Cutts and you will find there are two profiles for him. My friend Donna Fontenot also has two profiles although at least in that case they are the same. One problem here seems to be that there is no way of removing a profile as far as I can see. If you set up a separate Gmail account and mistakenly allow it to be treated as a profile, then that is one way you may end up with two profiles.
The problem is one of Identity Consolidation. This is the ability for a user to indicate that one or more identities, profiles or URLs across different sites all represent that same user. It is also known as profile aggregation or profile equivalency.
It is suggested that identity consolidation should be done in a user centric way without any "surprise" or automagic identity consolidations. Users get upset when identities/profiles they thought were different (say, because they were on different sites) are unexpectedly auto-collapsed/consolidated. Users do not expect sites to share information behind the user’s back (like their email addresses). That seems to be the problem that Google is running into.
One way that can be used to limit this is the "me" rel value, which is used to indicate profile equivalence and for identity-consolidation. rel="me" is used on hyperlinks from one page about a person to other pages about that same person. The code looks as follows:
If you use that approach, then you can really optimize your appearance when visitors check you out in a new Firefox plug-in called identify. You can read more about this approach in a post by Marshall Kirkpatrick. It is based on the Google Social Graph API, which tracks the connections between pages linked together for a single person.
British developer Glenn Jones demonstrated the most compelling tool I’ve seen yet for leveraging this powerful technology, called simply Identify. This Firefox plug-in can draw from any web page that has links tagged rel="me". Just click the control key and the "i" key to get a pop-up offering information put together from all around the web about the person the page is associated with. It works on Twitter profile pages, LinkedIn pages, blogs with good markup and other profile pages.
It is better to use the alt key and the "i" key but apart from that minor quibble with what is reported here, Identify really is impressive. Perhaps Google Profiles with more of an Identify appearance may yet be that FaceBook killer that we were talking about earlier.