Depending on your Twitter Follow list, you may have already seen the buzz over changes to Google Profiles recently. Whilst the product has been around for a while (in relative obscurity), two recent announcements have fixed the spotlight firmly upon it.
First off was a relatively low key announcement a few weeks ago, revealing that you could personalize your Google Profile URL to include your name (nicely termed a vanity URL). Then followed an announcement that Profiles are to start appearing in the Google search listings.
Cue a whole bunch of savvy people flocking to Google to ensure they could secure their ideal vanity url before someone sharing their name (or a cybersquatter) grabbed it. The news from Danny Sullivan that Google Profiles pass PageRank might just have contributed to the rush.
Since then there has been a lot of speculation regarding Google’s intent with its Profiles. A popular theory is that it is the start of a manoeuvre to take on the social network giants, Facebook and LinkedIn. There are many arguments for and against such theories, but it would certainly be quite a feat to unseat either colossus when you consider their size and integration into their users’ lives.
Highly Targeted Advertising
The most interesting theory I have read came from Slate’s Farhad Manjoo. In posing the question ‘Why would Google want a social network?’ he suggests that the motive is “to get to know you better – and thus, to serve you more profitable ads”.
The theory being that Google already knows so much about you through your use of search, Gmail, YouTube and your exposure to it’s advertising network, that it can already paint a pretty good picture of who you are and serve you appropriate ads. However, once you start adding links to your social network pages and blogs to your Google Profile, it can start to view you in the context of your relationships.
To quote directly from Farhad’s article:
“And you might find yourself giving Google a lot of personal info, too. In setting up my profile, I handed Google the links to my pages at Twitter, Facebook, and Friendfeed. By analyzing those sites—not to mention everything that it already knows about my contacts through my activity at Gmail and Google Voice—the company could probably create a startlingly precise map of my friends and family. You can think of it as a shadow social network: All of a sudden, Google has the ability to traverse my entire social circle, and I didn’t even have to approve a single friend request.”
A Monster Mash?
So if Facebook, LinkedIn and advertising are the most likely (or newsworthy) applications for Google Profiles, what else could Google use them for?
Slightly less sexy, but entirely possible, would be a new recruitment service – GoogleJobs.
Now it’s probably worth pointing out that is just a possible application, I have no evidence to suggest this is in Google’s plans. Consider it an option.
If you take a moment to consider what a Google Profile actually is – a page listing your personal details, job title, company, and interests/achievements (via links to your blog, LinkedIn and other social network sites) – then it’s not far removed (from a data perspective) from the CV / resume that you upload to sites such as Monster, Careerbuilder or Jobsite.
By applying a similar thought process to Farhad’s advertising theory, the Google Profile content and its subsequent linked pages would enable Google to construct a far more comprehensive biographical essay of your professional life than you could probably attempt in writing your own CV / resume.
By compiling this data for each Google Profile user, Google would have the potential to create a CV / resume database of a volume to challenge those of global recruitment giants such as Adecco or Monster.
When you consider Google’s penchant for providing services for free (see Gmail, Google Analytics, Google Docs, etc.), developing this database and opening it up to the world’s recruiters would pose a significant threat to those operating in the online recruitment market.
It wouldn’t necessarily even need to be entirely free to recruiters. There are services provided by LinkedIn that could be replicated / modified for GoogleJobs – such as InMail, LinkedIn’s brokered communication channel that enables you to contact users directly with career opportunities. A Google variant would provide a payment model, whereby recruiters would pay for direct access to Google Profile users (not to mention all the on-page advertising opportunities throughout the process).
The Sticking Points
Obviously this is just an idea and not without its issues. Volume, for a start, is a significant hurdle. Prior to the recent announcements, Google Profiles had seen a rather underwhelming take up rate. That has likely jumped in the last couple of weeks but is without doubt still some way off LinkedIn’s 40 million global members.
However, if we’ve only learned one thing in the decade since Larry and Sergey first announced ‘We’ll call it Google”, it’s this – Google have a habit of building products that become very, very, very popular. When you consider all the moves they are making to join their disparate products up, it is inevitable that a common element throughout will be a Google account – the first part of the puzzle. If they can convert those to Google Profiles then you can tick off the volume issue.
The other issue is one of privacy. It’s unlikely that Google would legally be able to add every Google Profile owner into a jobseeker database without the appropriate permissions. Plain and simple, not everyone is looking for a job or wants to be contacted with unsolicited offers. The Google Profile sign up process would need to provide an opt-in process (an opt-out approach would like cause many legal hassles around the globe) to enable a user to express their preferences. This would likely mean a significant portion of the Google Profile user list would not be available to search. This takes you back to issue #1 – a need to increase the volume again (at least while you’re working on your conversion rates) – probably much to the relief of those currently operating in the recruitment industry.
As I said, just an idea. We’ll wait and see what happens next.