Google Profiles – Not For Early Adopters, but Potentially Useful for Everyone Else

I saw a Google blog post about their new profiles product and thought it was interesting. I immediately went and created my profile and had some thoughts on why Google might want to release this product and what it means for the web more generally. Google spends a lot of time analyzing what people do via their search interface and I’m sure that they realized many people “Google themselves” via vanity searches and those same people have some interest in shaping / controlling / curating what strangers or friends see when they search for them in Google. Below are some of my quick reactions to the new product:

Unless Google promotes these Profile Pages with a Onebox or some other type of above-the-fold navigation callout, it doesn’t change the status quo for those who have reasonably well-developed web presences.
As I read it, Google does not plan to give prominent placement (at the moment) to user-generated profile pages. Below is a screen shot of a Google vanity search for my name – as you can see, my blog is at the top of the list, followed by my FriendFeed, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles (respectively):

SERP Results

Those are all links that have been on the web for quite some time and there are a number of high-quality referrers who point to those links. Unless Google gives my Google Profile link more prominence or I engage in some aggressive link-building or promotion for my Google Profile link, I’m not sure how it will bump any of the top sources of information about me on the web. I imagine that’s true for most people who live web lives and publish / share information about themselves online.

You don’t need Google Profiles to have a “home” online
You don’t need Google Profiles to have a curated home online. You can achieve roughly the same thing by making your LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile public. Sure, the Google Profile allows you to include many links to lots of other services or places you hang out on the web, but it’s basically a static profile that you can share and have other people find easily through the magic of Google. Again, this is more of an expert-level concern – if you have a well-developed, well-linked LinkedIn or Facebook profile on the web, I’m not sure that you’ll get all excited about the Google Profiles product.

So why do this? Well, it’s useful for the many web users who don’t have an investment in a centralized web presence and/or aren’t actively promoting said web presence. I am of the mind that the audience of folks who have not aggressively built and promoted a centralized web presence is much larger than the audience of those who have. Properly marketed and promoted, Google Profiles could become the home profile for many of those who haven’t committed to another service yet.

I have two other thoughts I wanted to share:

Google Profiles is not likely to become a social network but could become a social network traffic firehose
In playing with this product, it doesn’t feel like the green shoot bud of a social network. It feels like a directory page. If I were betting, I would guess that this will not turn into a social network but will tend to look much more like the world’s largest white pages service. Even for Google, I think it would be hard to use these Google Profiles as a seed / starting point for a new social network. That being said, I can see Google Profiles being a good traffic firehose for the services that users add to their profiles. I can imagine a use case where someone searches for a friend, finds said friends, realizes that he / she is on Facebook, Twitter, etc and decides to connect with him / her there as well. If profiles become popular, I can see them driving lots of traffic away from Google Profiles and to the underlying services that people link to on their profiles.

Will Google actively promote this or will it fade away?
Even with its culled product portfolio, will Google actively promote Google Profiles? They have so many priorities – I’m not sure where this one ranks relative to existing services and products (Android, AdSense, AdWords, Checkout, etc) and new products (Latitude, for starters). As interesting as this product might be, it certainly won’t get adopted without some active promotion from Google.

Thoughts? Leave me a comment and I’ll respond.