Having a profile page on the web makes it easier for people to find and follow what you're up to on all the social websites you visit.
It used to be that your friends needed to sign up for every different web service you used, if they wanted to follow your activities. That meant not only a lot of work for you and your friends, but all of you were wedded to the fate of the various companies running the sites.
Thanks to the explosion of technologies that connect social websites together, that scenario is now past.
You can easily create your own online profile on any service you like and pull in posts from all the other sites your use. Although Facebook was one of the first to popularize this method of connecting with friends, it's by no means the only possibility.
There are a variety of places you can set up social profiles. We'll take a look at a few of the most popular ones.
First of all, why?
It's important to maintain control of your own identity on the social web. The deeper and more fully fleshed-out your presence is on a trusted service like the ones listed below, the easier it is for your friends to find you, and the harder it is for anyone to impersonate you.
One of the key things a profile page does is provide a list of links to other places on the web where you're active -- your Twitter page, your photo page, your blog. Even if you choose to keep all of your activities in those places private, having them all listed in one place helps search engines learn to associate those pages with your name.
In other words, linking to all of your various accounts from one place makes it more likely that when somebody types your name into a search engine, they end up at a page you have total control over.
Google recently beefed up its Profiles product -- a place for your personal identity on the web -- by tying it to its Buzz service. Now, you can instruct Buzz to pull in posts, photos, tweets, videos and status messages from other web services, and all of them will appear on your Google Profile.
To set up a Google Profile, just create a Google account if you don't already have one, and then head to Google's profile service. From there you can add whatever data you'd like: a photo, nicknames, cities where you've lived. Pull in Twitter posts, Flickr or Picasa photos, Tumblr blogs or any RSS feed by adding each service under "Links." Google will also be able to automatically discover other sites where you have a public profile.
Be sure to fill out the relevant bio information and include links to your personal site, if you have one, and a way for people to contact you.
Google's profile pages are public, and are viewable by anyone on the web, so be careful how much you share. You can delete your Google Profile at any time.
To pull in posts from outside services like Twitter or Picasa, look for the section of your profile titled Updates. Add each site, under the header that says "Start sharing updates from other websites."Like Google, Yahoo offers a public profile page to go along with your Yahoo account. To change the settings and add more information, head to the Yahoo Profiles page, where you'll find places to add links, bio information and contact data.
As with other services, Yahoo offers privacy settings to control who can see and search for your profile. Yahoo also lets you set up notifications, so you'll get an e-mail whenever anyone posts a comment to something on your profile or requests to make contact with you through your profile.
While many have decried Facebook's recent move to open up to the public web, if you've been wanting to use Facebook as a public profile page, the company's recent changes (making profiles public in their default state) are good news. Now, not only can non-Facebook members see your profile, search engines can find it as well.
However, it's important to understand that not all Facebook pages are totally public by default. To turn your Facebook profile into a public profile, you'll need to change a few settings. The first step is to head to Privacy Settings under the Account menu in the upper right corner of your Facebook page.
On the privacy page you'll see five categories of privacy settings: Profile Information, Contact Information, Applications and Websites, Search, and Block List.
Start at the top with Profile Information. For all the options you want to make public, change the setting to "Everyone." This will let anyone see all the things you post under that category. Work your way through the rest of the options, turning all the aspects you want to publish publicly to the "Everyone" setting. Preview your profile to see what it looks like on the public web.
Sharing the relevant parts of your life with friends, and maintaining control over how you're represented on the social web is easier than ever, thanks to these tools.
One advantage of public profiles: Your identity is no longer exclusively tied to any one company, and you can move from Google to Yahoo to Facebook and back again with very little hassle.