In another expansion of its Profiles site, Google has enabled people to share their contact information with selected contacts, a move that offers modest convenience for users of the service and valuable data to Google.
The feature shows as a "Contact info" tab; clicking on it shows whatever contact information you've entered and the note, "You are not sharing your contact information with anyone. Edit your profile to add contact info, and then choose who to share it with so that they always have the most up-to-date information."
Google Profiles is hardly a Facebook crusher or a LinkedIn slayer, but it is getting gradually more elaborate, as Google builds it up. In October, user profiles became visible to search engines. In November came identity authentication and a mechanism to let people contact you without sharing your e-mail address.
Here's why this Profiles move is interesting: telling Google whom you entrust with your personal information is a good way of identifying the close members of your social circle--in other words, the strong links in your social graph.
One of my constant complaints with services such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and now Yahoo Open Strategy is that it's hard to sift the activity from my close contacts out from that of the ocean of second-tier people. If Google wants to make something bigger out of its Profiles work, a list of your close ties is invaluable data.
It indicates whom gets your trust, whose e-mail you want to read first, the people with whom you're staying in touch, and those likely with shared interests. Even better for Google, by labeling data as "family," "co-workers," and your own mailing-list groups, Google can discern subtler distinctions in your social-graph ties.
When you're entering your personal information--phone numbers, instant-messaging nicknames, addresses, and your birthday--Google presents options for sharing with various people. For me, it presented checkboxes (unchecked by default) next to the Gmail lists I've set up.
The page also has two links for setting up groups for family or co-workers. Clicking either presents a list of your top Gmail contacts.
I could see some tighter integration with Gmail's contacts function here. Google is revamping Gmail contacts (hurrah!), and using Google Profiles would be a great way to ease the constant pain of keeping your contact list up-to-date.
(Via Google Operating System.)