The company's aim is to provide more relevant services and ads, and to increase user engagement at its online properties. Where once Google was happy to send searchers on their way to other sites, it now sees value in giving users a reason to linger and interact, as they do on social networks like Facebook and MySpace.
At the same time, Google is demonstrating that it can do people-oriented search as well as, or better than, specialty search engines like Spock.com.
In a blog post on Wednesday, Google took a page out of Facebook's book by highlighting the privacy protection available to those who make Google Profiles.
"If you want people to be able to contact you, but don't want to reveal your e-mail address to the world, you can hide your username and use a 24 digit number instead," explains Google product manager Peter Chane. "Turn on the 'Send a message' feature, and anyone with a Google Account can send you a message through your profile, without having your e-mail address revealed to them."
Never mind that Google has probably already indexed your e-mail address and provided a pointer to the site where the information was found. Focus instead on Google's willingness to pitch privacy and information control as incentive for putting personal information into Google's hands.
Coming from a company that has consistently treated information as something to be organized and made universally accessible, this is a small but noteworthy divergence from the norm.