During the podcast the other night, Dave and I talked a little about public, online profiles. We experimented a little with our Google Profiles, and wondered about the best way to create and manage a central profile. The idea is to create and manage something approximating an online card and short biography. I’ve done some more thinking about it and here’s what I’ve concluded.
First, a couple of assumptions. Like every other part of our online lives, the sheer number of locations where you can create and maintain a profile can lead to dilution and/or a Sisyphean task of trying to keep everything reasonably fresh and current. For that reason, I decided I to create one central profile page, and then link to it from the various locations where I maintain a presence. I’m already spread too thin as far as the so-called social networks go, so I don’t want to add another service just to manage a profile page. For example, I have an abandoned Linkedin account. While Linkedin may be (but probably isn’t) the coolest thing since Doug Sahm, over time I want to consolidate- not further distribute- my online presence.
As an aside, those of you who have reached out to me via Linkedin- it’s not personal. I’d love to connect with you. Just not there. Maybe via Facebook?
So, what options did I look at?
I started out at my Google Profile, since that’s the service Dave and I were exploring. The immediately obvious problem is the inflexibility of both layout and content. You can add links to your various online locations and email addresses and phone numbers, but only in a structured, inflexible way. I don’t want to directly display my email address and phone numbers. Rather, I want to use a script to hide my email address from spambots, and a Google Voice link for telephone calls.
After a little work, here’s the best Google Profile I could come up with.
Not good enough. One of the best and worst things about Google is the policy that lets employees spend company time on pet projects. The results are a few apps that are super-cool and a lot that seem tossed together and forgotten. For every must-use Google application, there are scores of ignored or abandoned apps along the information superhighway.
So I decided to abandon my Google Profile. Once I choose my profile location, I’ll simply put a note on my Google Profile directing people to it.
Many people would tell you that Facebook is designed to be precisely the sort of pre-packaged profile I am looking for, and for many people Facebook has become their de facto online profile. But that won’t work for me.
For one thing, all Facebook content is locked away behind Facebook’s walls, and not easily accessible to the world at large. Sure, you can sort of create a public profile. And I guess you can make some of your information public. But one look at how you do it sent me into a tailspin of frustration.
Once again, Facebook’s layout and navigation structure, which only a dedicated crackhead could love, thwarts an attempt at doing anything creative. So, I’ll leave my Facebook profile in place for those who want to remain in Pelbarigan, and add a pointer to my chosen profile location for those who want to venture outside the walls and run with the Shumai axemen.
I didn’t even know Yahoo had a public profile page, but once I happened across it, I was initially impressed. While pre-packaged, it seems more robust than Google Profiles, and more intuitive than the quagmire at Facebook.
To begin with, it has a blank to fill in your typical user name, after which it will try to locate your online content.
It only searches some sites, but it quickly found my Twitter, Last.fm (abandoned), StumbleUpon (never used), Picasa (never used), YouTube and Webshots (abandoned) accounts. I got an error message when I tried to add some of them to my Yahoo Profile.
The more I worked with it, the less impressed I was. I don’t see a way to manage your URL, so your Yahoo Profile ends up at some URL like http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/K6PWN5TRB7AQ344YDMPCIP5HWM. That’s crazy. And at the end of the day, you get something that looks like this.
Which I guess means that Yahoo has its own walls. I could have looked into this further, but I decided to just go on living my life.
FriendFeed, Twitter, Etc.
FriendFeed isn’t really set up for the creation of a full profile. It’s more about content consolidation and being assimilated by the Borg-like Facebook. Same with Twitter. I briefly looked at a few other choices.
At the end of the day, that leaves three choices: Google Profiles, Facebook or- you know where this is going- the big, scary web. You remember the web. It’s that thing we killed AOL to get to. That thing that, in a move that would make Tom Sawyer proud, Web 2.0 developers are trying to make us afraid of, so we’ll create content they can use to get rich.
The Big, Scary Web
Much like my experience with Headline News pages, it became very clear that the web is the best place to create and maintain a public profile. You have total control of the design and content of the page. For a few dollars a year, you can register and own a domain (yourname.com, etc.). It’s a better, more flexible and more effective choice.
Here’s mine, and here’s how I built it.
First, I used the same CSS, look and feel as the rest of Newsome.Org, for harmony and branding purposes, and added the standard menu.
Then I hacked a Flickr script to display three random photos every time the page is opened. This gives the visitor an immediate visual image of who I am.
Next, I found a script that rotates my profile photo. I have four photos in the rotation, but you can have as many as you want. I added links to all of my content elsewhere: Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, Flickr, YouTube, Qik, my Content Pile and even my day job.
In the middle, I added a short narrative, and a list of upcoming speeches. I added contact links: a script for email (again, to avoid the spambots) and a Google Voice link for voicemail. I did not put my phone number on the page, because anyone who has a legitimate reason to call me and doesn’t already have my number won’t mind leaving a message on Google Voice.
On the right, I added education and experience information. This is not a business page or a resume, so I didn’t add anything about my job experience beyond the summary in the short narrative.
That’s all there was to it, and I’m convinced that this is a better option than managing my profile within the confines of some third party network. Plus, when I want to add something, I can do it easily without restriction.
All I had to do afterwards was add pointers in my various social network profiles to my handmade profile page.
It’s too bad so many people are leaving the flexible and accessible internet for the faux security of the so-called social networks. Maybe history does repeat itself, and we’re back in the Compuserve and AOL era.
Regardless, I think a central, web based profile, linked from your various other locations, is the most effective and efficient way to maintain a current online profile.