Typing your name into a search engine is a great way to find out what the Internet thinks of you--at least until the first page of results shines a spotlight on that embarrassing episode from your misspent youth. Now Google, though, is offering people who share their profile information with the search giant more control over how they appear in its results.
Google has a complicated algorithm for determining which Web sites show at the top of its search results, presenting the top 10 picks on its results page. But in what amounts to an admission that this doesn't fully satisfy all the needs of people searching for a specific name, Google now will show a separate 11th result--a special "onebox" that presents links to people with a particular name and links to their Google profiles.
Google "is giving people more of an opportunity to have greater presence and to surface the most relevant content about themselves in a way they have some say about," said Joe Kraus, director of product management in Google's apps group.
To illustrate the utility of the feature, Kraus brings up the example of Brian Jones. If you happen to share the name of the Rolling Stone's deceased founding guitarist, you don't have much opportunity to show up high on Google's search results for that name. That changes with the new people-search feature, he said, though it doesn't affect the regular search results above.
There's a quid pro quo, though. To appear in Google's special people-search results you must set up a Google profile. The more information you include on your profile, the better your odds that your profile will appear among the four names that can appear in the special result, Kraus said.
At least for now, Google profiles are a collection of information you are willing to share publicly--photos, interests, Web sites about yourself. Through integration with your Gmail contacts, which lets you identify people you trust and share contact information with them, Google's profiles are gradually becoming a deeper reflection of ties called the social graph.
Kraus wouldn't comment on how the profile page fits into Google's social strategy, though he did say in general that Google's strategy in general focuses "not on how you make any one site more social, but how you make the entire Web more social."
One thing is sure, though: spotlighting profiles this directly in search results, given Google's immense search clout and people's concern about their self-image, extends much greater power to the profiles site.
To lend even more prominence, Google is beginning a "Google Me" promotion in which people who search for "me" will get an opportunity to see their profile or sign up for one.