I call it the Google Effect -- the mishmash that occurs when folks search for you on the Web and find other people who share your name but none of your charming personal traits. Sometimes this is an improvement, but it can also have a disastrous effect on your reputation.
Now I hardly do any ego surfing -- not more than two hours a day, tops. But on those rare occasions, I do find some weird mashups of information that make no sense to anything but a brainless bot-driven search engine. (Like some people seem to think there's more than one Robert X. Cringely out there. Can you believe that?)
If, for example, there's an axe murderer or an "American Idol" contestant with your exact same name, a search engine really can't tell the difference between you and them. But now that Google has added Profiles to its search results, that may change.
What, you mean you don't have a Google Profile? Well, better start filling one out right now, before that axe murdering/American Idoler beats you to it.
Just be prepared: Google Profiles is damned nosy. It wants to know your name, nicknames, profession, employers, schools, and as much biographical information as you can dredge up. It wants your photographs and all of your related Web sites, blogs, social media profiles, etc. It will automatically create a Google Map showing your "places" and, if you so choose, share your contact info with the world.
And though you're obviously not obligated to fill out all the fields or even tell the truth, you have strong incentives to do so -- i.e., to distinguish yourself from the less talented hacks (literal or otherwise) who share your name.
Next time somebody cruises Google looking for you, it will display your profile at the bottom of the first page of search results. And if there's more than one profile with the same name? Google will rank the results just like it does any other search, by sprinkling magic G-dust over the Web and murmuring a super secret incantation.
Google's Joe Kraus told me a little bit more about how the profile links will work. Basically, as more people make profiles, there will be an algorithm (as usual, Google isn't sharing too many details about it) that decides which four are the most relevant. That relevance could be based on the completeness of the profile, geographic location, links, and more. Plus, if a user is logged into their Google account, their social connections in Google would also play a role.
In other words, the more information you provide in your profile, the more Google likes you. And if you're already one of the Google faithful, Uncle G will give you an extra special treat. Is it only me, or does anyone else out there find that just a bit creepy?
What Google's really doing is pulling the wings off all those gnat-sized people search engines like Spock, Spokeo, Pipl, Wink, ZoomInfo, Naymz, etc. If enough people create profiles, those little engines will plummet to earth.
Even sneakier: Some folks see this as a play to put Facebook out of business. That one seems more like a long shot to me. But feeding the world's biggest data glutton even more tasty morsels from your own personal stash should surely give one pause.
One thing Google Profiles won't do is erase your own stupidity from the Web. Remember that time you drank the entire pitcher of margaritas and ended up in a Tijuana jail dressed like Carmen Miranda? That's totally on you, bub. And I've got the pictures to prove it.
Will you fill out a Google Profile? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.