Google’s social network, Google+, always seems to be in a permanent state of “catch-up mode” with Facebook. And this was amply demonstrated recently when they finally introduced two features that Facebook have been offering for a long time – vanity URL’s and closed restricted groups.
In case you are unaware of the term, a “vanity URL” is a customized URL which will show a visitor something about you. So rather than this….
….you would see something like this instead :
You can see right away the benefits and attractions of a vanity URL. Rather than a long line of numbers which would be pretty difficult to remember, you could instead have your name, or the name of your business. This would have two effects. One, people would find your page easier, and two, your page will rank better in search results when people plug your name in.
As usual with anything new that Google rolls out, the vanity URL scheme is being introduced to people in stages. So if you don’t see it right away, don’t worry. Just keep checking your Google+ profile every day, and eventually you will see a message at the top informing you that you can now choose a vanity URL for your profile.
However, before you start getting all excited about branding your name on Google, there are some strict criteria for being eligible for a vanity URL. Personal profiles need to have 10 or more followers, have a profile photo, and be 30 days old or more. For pages, you need to link your site with your Google Plus page, or use Google Plus Local and verify your business.
Although this might seem like a nuisance, these restrictions are probably Google’s attempt to people from setting up hundreds, even thousands of new Google+ profiles, and “cybersquatting” on potentially valuable names.
If you have a common name (and it seems I do), you will be asked to put some extra characters at the end of your name to make it uniquely yours. So I couldn’t get “+markoneill” (which really hacked me off). Instead I had to make a “unique” URL by adding some numbers or extra letters on the end.
Finally, after much thought, I just added a 1 on the end. Keeping it short and sweet.
As you can see, once you choose a URL, you can’t change it (unlike Facebook, who allow you to change your URL once). Google’s policy is completely stupid because what about people who change their name, for say getting married? If they can’t change their URL, they are stuck with their former name, or they have to start from scratch. If it is a personal page, it might not seem like such a big deal. But if it was a business page, with countless business clients carefully cultivated over a long period of time, and highly ranked on Google? Having to scrap that page and start again would be a mini-disaster.
And in other Google+-related developments, if you are a company, you can now create closed “restricted communities” for you and your business colleagues to chat, without the fear that someone unauthorized from the outside is listening in (such as a competitor). How does Google know that you are really a “company”? Simple. The feature is only available to those who are Google Apps users. Anyone with a free Google account is considered to be a private individual and as such, is told to make their own Google+ community instead.
This “logic” is a bit flawed, since up until recently, anyone could open a free Google Apps account for their domain. I’ve got one, and I am a single self-employed person. I wouldn’t consider myself a “company” by any stretch of the imagination. Once again, compare this to Facebook which allows anyone to set up a group with a privacy level from completely open to completely closed.
I find this “restricted communities” development rather ironic because Google seems to be inhabiting this surreal fantasy world where they think that businesses are immediately going to flock to them with their confidential business conversations and information that they want kept “private”. But when the NSA came knocking, Google was one of the first companies to ask the NSA to bend over so they could kiss the government’s behind. So what on earth makes Google think that businesses are going to have selective amnesia, and suddenly want their confidential business discussions stored on Google servers? You may as well walk right up to the gates of the NSA right now, and hand over everything, and save Google the trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Facebook is any better. In fact, none of the big companies have come out of the whole NSA mess smelling like roses. All I’m saying is that it’s a bit rich of Google to start expecting businesses to let bygones be bygones like this.
Anyway, it’s now over to you. Have you got your own vanity URL? If so, did you get the one you hoped for? And secondly, would you use Google’s restricted communities feature for private work-related discussions? Would you trust Google, in light of the whole spying mess, to safeguard your valuable business information on their servers?