Search shift gives Google Profiles new prominence

Google Profiles no longer are invisible to search engines, so people can find friends more easily. Does Google have grander social-networking hopes for the service?

Google's Profiles page lets people change settings for all their Google services. How socially aware will the site become?
Google's Profiles page lets people change settings for all their Google services. How socially aware will the site become? CNET News

Google Profiles got its start as a way to centralize users' settings and self-descriptions. Now Google has now flipped a switch to let search engines discover people's profiles, giving the service a much greater social component.

Before, profiles were effectively invisible to search engines, but last week, the company changed that setting, as ZDNet blogger and iQmetrix programmer Garett Rogers noticed. And Google clearly wants people's profiles to be noticed.

"The more information you provide, the easier it will be for friends to find you," Google says on the page, where people can enter profile information such as the places where they grew up, the schools they attended, links to their publicly available Web pages, their interests, and helpfully for Google's research department, things they can't find on Google.

For now, at least, the profiles page lacks the socially interconnected features of Web sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Google's own Orkut. But with profiles now giving a new anchor to Google users' online presence, it's not a stretch to imagine Google headed this direction.

A widget here, a social graph there, maybe a feed to broadcast and spotlight people's online activities, and pretty soon, Google might have another shot at social networking with popularity broader than the Orkut's niche.

Indeed, that's what Yahoo is trying to do with its new socially engaged profiles pages .

Google acknowledged the search visibility move for profiles but declined to shed much light on its plans for profiles.

"Recently, we added the ability to search all public profiles created by users. If a user has checked the 'Show full name publicly so people can find you' box on the profile edit page, their profile is a publicly accessible Web page and is indexed in search results," the company said in a statement.

The company framed the move in the context of its ever-present top priority of improving search. How does Google Profiles do that, exactly? The company offered two reasons to me: First, it lets people control their own presentation on the Web better--something that could well appeal to those who aren't happy that a vanity search on their name leads people to something embarrassing. Second, it could make it easier for people to find others on the Internet.

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About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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