One of the principal things nearly anyone does on Google.com is a vanity search: We ask the question: What do people see when they put my name into Google?
Today, Google is announcing, for the first time, that anyone can change what is seen. (The initial launch is US only).
This, to be clear, is a Very Big Deal.
Joe Kraus, one of the founders of Excite and founder of JotSpot, is now at Google, and this new feature is his baby. I spoke to him today when he sent me a note about the launch. I immediately called him back, because, as I said, I see this as a Very Big Deal.
Why? Well, Google has always been predicated on being a neutral black box. You, as a solitary entity, could not influence the results that Google provided (though of course a very large industry has emerged that attempts to do just that). But this launch changes the game, in a few very, very interesting ways.
First, and most obvious, this is Google leveraging its might in search to get more people to sign up for Google profiles. I shouldn’t have to explain why this is important, given the competition from Facebook and Twitter, but trust me, it’s really important that Google 1. know who you are and 2. compel you to have ongoing relationship with the company.
Second, this move creates, for the first time ever, a new signal that is directly controlled by an individual but changes what *everyone else* will see in results. True, for now, the results are at the bottom of the first page of results, but that doesn’t mean it won’t move up once Google learns enough to make it truly useful.
Third, this is Google putting a human, community-driven face on itself. It’s Google saying “Hey search user! We want to listen and respond to you!” This is a very good thing for the company, and how it plays its hand from now forward is going to be very, very interesting.
Fortunately for Google, the man with the hand is Kraus, who is a master poker player (yes, I’ve lost to him) and a generally good guy to boot.
There are many questions to be asked about this new service, but the first one that came to my mind is this: Who ranks first for any given name? There are a lot of Joe Smiths, for example, and even more than one John Battelle’s, despite the relative uniqueness of that name (and even more if you count dead folks on the roles of Ancestry.com).
Kraus explained that the initial signal for which profiles would be shown (four will be shown, with a “more” button) will be based on completeness of the Google Profile. AHA! Another motivation to give Google more info on you!
What if there are like 200 John Smiths, and they all have complete profiles? What signals will determine which get into the top four, and which gets the coveted top spot? Kraus said he didn’t have a good answer for that yet, but one signal will certainly be clickthrough rates (like it is for AdSense), and they will be learning and iterating over time.
Google is also doing a US promotion to encourage folks to set up a profile – when you “Google Me” (literally, “me”), you get an ad (see image at left). Again, this is something of a first for Google, or at least unusual, as there are other AdSense advertisers for the term “me” who are not getting placement at the top – Google is taking it for its own promotion.
This all reminds me of the ending of my book. Which of course is my favorite part. In the epilogue, the final paragraph reads:
What does it mean, I wondered, to become immortal through words pressed in clay – or, as was the case here, through words formed in bits and transferred over the web? Is that not what every person longs for – what Odysseus chose over Kalypso’s nameless immortality – to die, but to be known forever? And does not search offer the same immortal imprint – is not existing forever in the indexes of Google and others the modern day equivalent of carving our stories into stone? For anyone who has ever written his own name into a search box and anxiously awaited the results, I believe the answer is yes.