The About page concept

A new type of internet trend is popping up: about pages. These pages list your internet persona in one simple page with snazzy graphics, relevant pictures and a handy list of links to the many pages you believe define you.

@g3n yep, it’s like you dress up like who you are on the web and make a picture /cc @aboutdotme
from @bertheymans (Bert Heymans)

 

Yet Another Profile Page.
We had it comming, really. It all started with traditional web pages. Then we had blogs. Then microbloging (twitter, aka blogging for twits) Then the first social network we all actually cared about, Facebook. Add a wad of misc experimental, private, project and whatever sites and we (the tech savvy ones) all have an conservative average of 4 URLs a person.

Enter this “about page” concept.
I was introduced to the idea by About.me. I subscribed to the beta and got me about.me/gertschepens
Then later I heard about KimTag: kimtag.com/GertSchepens. Was introduced to jumpscan.com: jumpscan.com/gertschepens. And curious and already slightly annoyed at the fresh trend, I checked for alternatives with alternativeto.net and found that these will indeed be the next black. As a side note; Google has an about page too though nobody really seems to realize that.. Bert has a wonderful presentation about QR codes and touches on these about pages.

I get it.
Really, I do! Facebook can’t offer this service because of its closedness that at first sight offers privacy, but in the end only serves to protect their monetaty gains. (Monetary gains like selling their user data (yes, YOUR data) to whoever wants to pay them for it.) Whatever the reasons, the fact is its not an about page. Neither is twitter, which aims to be good at what it does without adding the bloat. Respect for that decision, specialisation is good. Sites like picasa or the one that keeps on screwing up on user data (Yes, thats you, flickr) often offer some sort of a profile, but in the end they aren’t suitable either.
Google made a throw at profile pages but they are too creepy in that they have your chat, your email, your everything and they dont realize that you dont just want anyone to have that url. (which is often readable on the profile page in some form any half smart person can figure out) You can disable the links, but its still creepy and .. Google just isnt that good at social; look at Orkut.
I had high hopes for Diaspora, an open source facebook alternative. Being open, it could offer exactly that style of data, accessible to who needs it. But I dont think its ready for prime time yet.
Blogs have about pages, but not everyone has a blog; blogs sometimes move and writing a decent about page for your blog is harder than you d think.. So we DO need a place that offers that info and that takes part of “choosing what info and making it pretty” out of our hands..

Content
Lets take a look at what the Standard Content for these pages is..
All the pages have a default setup. They all have a Picture, First name; Last name and Location field. They all offer some sort of Headline / About text field with sometimes a separate Biography space. And a wad of options for listing or connecting with sites like.

To put it in a list:

  • Picture
  • Name
  • About & Biography
  • Website
  • Twitter
  • Blog
  • Email
  • Facebook, Flicr, MySpace
  • Blog, Email, Website, other sites
  • Custom ID, Custom Link
  • Address, Aim, App Store, Blogger, Buzz, Delicious, Digg, Diigo, Formspring, Foursquare, Friendster, Hi5, iTunes, Last.FM, LinkedIn, Meetup, Mobile, Picasa, Reddit, RSS, Skype, Soundcloud, Steam, Stumbleupon, Tagged, Telephone, Tumblr, Typepad, Vimeo, WordPress, YahooID, Youtube

They all offer about the same listing options though some offer extra drama and flavor with the ability to aggregate content or star sites you find more important.

The Goole Profile goes an extra mile and offers an extra wad of fields in which you can define yourself and does this slightly more tongue in cheek compared to the others

  • Introduction
  • Occupation
  • Places I’ve lived map
  • Birthday
  • Links
  • Bragging Rights (Ex survived highschool, have 3 kids, ..)
  • Employment
  • Education
  • Home
  • Work
  • Relationship
  • Looking For
  • Gender
  • Other names (ex alternate spelling, maiden name, ..)
  • Nickname

 

The biggest added value is undoubtedly in the extra options

  • Download VCard
  • QR code
  • Share
  • Friends (Teh social)
  • Stats!
  • Mobile version

Generating QR codes is a big service even though its not hard to do with services like ZXing. I dont think we need extra help with the sharing nor the social part. The stats might be important to some and I have heard people say that a mobile version is Very important though I personally switch to the full versions for 90% of the sites. The VCard is a nice touch (Jumpscan does this) and I think this is interesting added value but on the other hand I also wonder if anyone ever really uses vcards… except for creating and attaching them, that is.. But I realize that this is just my outlook on vcards and that I am probably wrong here. And to reitterate; being pretty is an important added value too; something about.me is very good at. Even though Kimtag has the prettiest QR codes. I like the extra block with the K; makes it look all nice 🙂
Considering DIY
I look at these pages and I think .. is this really all they are doing? Will I have to keep up with yet another profile site just to have this? Or several of them if I cant choose what features I prefer? And do I want to print those QR-codes on everything I own, considering the service may stop in a year, maybe two because of the many reasons sites like these stop? (bought by some company, ran out of money, ..)
In short, I look at these pages and I think “I should host this myself”!

Take a Drupal site or a WordPress site. Put your name and picture on there; fill in the data (check the list earlier if you need an idea on what to put in there) and generate a QR code for your page. And you ve got your own similar page! For the sake of completeness; there are some features you might want and that are not readily available in Drupal and WordPress; so without further ado; another list!

  • The Data
    You know who you are and what to put there. You might need a bit of inspiration, but other than that its just summarizing your digital life onto the page and adding your picture..
  • Aggregating Content
    If you like to have certain data aggregated from, for example, twitter, both WP and Drupal have options to do this. I personally dont; I like an about page to be just about the data. The easiest way that will work for most of the sites is to take the rss feed and have it aggregated. WordPress has rss widgets for this and Drupal has an aggregator plugin by default and a wad of other plugins for when you need more options.
  • QR Code
    Both WordPress and  Drupal have plugins that generate QR codes. You can use those to auto generate them and with a little configuring, you can put an automated QR code on all your pages. Or if you just need the one, you can generate it at ZXing and upload it to your site; they’re just images in the end.
  • Share
    Both Drupal and WP have plugins that put a slew of sharing buttons on your site. These share/save buttons are as easily added as including a plugin and honestly; I think we’re all able to plug our sites on the social networks we use without needing a button to generate the message..
  • Stats
    This might be the one thing thats toughest to replicate. About.me has a wonderful page with twitter stats; listing who retweets you the most; who @-messages you most frequently .. I use Google Analytics for my stats and it does a Wonderful job. I have a slew of statistics about who visits me when and why; but no twitter stats. I am content with the many stats that Google Analytics offer. Both Drupal and WP have plugins that facilitate the integration of Analytics into your personal pages.
  • Mobile version
    Although I personally don’t use these too much; I’ll admit that they have their uses. Both site engines offer plugins for awesome automated mobile versions.
  • VCard
    Generating one of these by hand isnt tough and uploading them to your page isn’t either. You will of course have to maintain it; but that data usually doesn’t change a lot at any rate..

This does mean that you’ll need to get a WordPress or Drupal to tinker with. Either on some personal webspace or maybe wordpress.com?

And yet
In the end I’m still a bit skeptic about it all. This just feels like another iteration of the many social pages that pop up, live for a short while and then go the way of the Geocities. But on the other hand I do recognize the itch its trying to scratch.
So expect a post about a new page at about.gertschepens.be soon. Based on Drupal with some jQuery for minor usability effects.

Published by Gert

Person-at-large.

12 thoughts on “The About page concept

  1. You mean “the web” has just been trying to reinvent finger for the past twenty years or so? Wow.

    I think I will stick with finger. It works well. No frills. No advertising either.

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  2. Last Saturday on Barcamp Antwerp we had a little Jumpscan vs Kimtag discussion in the room. The conclusion was that if you want stats and an easy vCard you’re better off using Jumpscan, if you’re interested in redirects and cleaner design Kimtag wins. Those are both for personal use, for brands and event marketing there’s getShareSquare.com

    PS: The crowd really liked that K in Kimtag too, some people really were under the impression that it was part of the QR Code, very interesting, I wrote that one down.

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    1. webfinger looks like a very nice startup project, but sadly it seems to be exactly that; I cant find any code..
      Finger or any new implementation also brings another problem , namely that you need a server to put these files on; which is something the general users dont have access to. People at certain companies, universities & the like and inspired individuals will have the necessary infrastructure to actually provide this but in general, most people wont. And things only take off after amassing a certain user base, cfr Facebook vs all its predecessors.
      I could expand more but in short I dont think this principle can scale to the web. Except as a service behind one of these about page concept services but then it d just be another one in the list, this one offering finger support. It might be considered as a base for such an open service; but that doesnt appear to be happening today.

      The about phenomenon is not new, but the fact of these eternal aggregating about pages that do no more than an about is new to me. If pages like these existed before, I would love to check them out and add a post scriptum about them to the post 🙂

      @bert: that k is design genious!

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  3. No, I don’t think we need a “web” interface to finger. I feel the existing interface is perfectly adequate. Likewise, the existing infrastructure also seems to work well. I don’t think any work needs to be done.

    Unless by “scale to the web” you mean “destroy beyond recognition”, which seems to be the usual interpretation.

    finger is a fine protocol. It is highly intuitive and easy to use. It is also zero-overhead and does exactly what it says on the tin. These qualities are obviously undesirable to have on the “web”. Nevermind the lack of convenient advertising potential.

    finger is fine. The “web” on the other hand … needs work.

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  4. The web needs LOTS of work but I guess thats what makes it so exciting 🙂

    But about finger.. say I wanted to know more about you.. What user@server do I finger from here?
    Finger does sound exciting; a web interface to finger (only for displaying the data) does too..

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  5. Ehm, how about “philip@paeps.cx”?

    Why do you think it needs a web interface? Why would you insist on firing up tens (or hundreds) of megabytes of software if 20Kbytes will get the job done?

    Compare –
    finger: connect, read, exit – couple of tens of milliseconds at most
    web: by the time you’ve started your browser and it starts responding to commands, nearly a minute will have passed and then you’ve not even started telling it what to do.

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  6. You are absolutely right in your comparison. The speed difference is insane.

    But sadly, the internet is really not about speed and efficacity. Whether concepts or technologies take hold rather depends on how many people adopt it, how easily new people can join in and if people have the right tools to use it.
    And thats where I see finger fail. I wont try to guestimate or even talk about how many use it today or how easy it is to addopt; the problem, I think, is that for example my mother (the mother part is a bit of an inaccuracy, but nevermind that) will not be able to join in on the finger ecology. She simply doesnt have a machine that can serve her personal finger data to the interwebs. I put her on Ubuntu so she would have been able to finger your information, but sadly most users are still on Windows and I dont know if that has finger by default? Not to mention the fact that people these days like flashy colors, pictures, moving crap and snazzy interfaces.

    Which is why a web interface to finger and a service that offers you a *nix user to hold your finger data would help..

    But the speed difference is obscenely on the side of finger.

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  7. > But sadly, the internet is really not about speed and efficacity.

    I’m sure the people I’m writing a 10GigE device driver for disagree…

    Perhaps you are again thinking about the “web” and not about the internet? They are not the same. Happily.

    Last time I saw a Microsoft Windows machine, it had a finger client on board. I believe all reasonable operating systems have finger clients. If not installed by default, then not far away. Telnet or netcat to port 79 also works well, for instance.

    The “web” is an odd thing. Not sure if it’s a good thing though. Makes people forget that there are actual solutions to problems. Rather than new problems.

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  8. I get your frustrations, I really do. The tendency to give up efficiency because modern technology can carry the bloat and still be moderately fast is sad, to say the least.

    But thats the state of the internet, the state of the modern programming languages (I loathe java because of it) and the prevalent mentality in IT. Its Really sad. Wasting an inconceivable amount of IT resources on millions of computers, every day.

    Yet thats how things are and while I hope that the mentality will change; I dont want to be a modern day IT Don Quichotte, waiting for it to happen. And so I ignore the bloat and observe the current state of the web. (Or internet as I use those terms as if they meant the same, even though they dont. But that difference is a point I cant make aloud in most environments, so adjusting to the culture that surrounds me, I dont.)
    And the web is currently reinventing a colorful version of finger because they (we) came up with such an amount of different other types of web pages that they need an extra page to keep track of it all. Its a farce.
    But one worth observing and now that I happily replicated it on about.gertschepens I actually hope to reap the benefits of not having to tell people where I’m at on the internets anymore. Not that I even have to do that a lot anyway, but now I’ll have to do it even less. Without having to explain how to open a console window and finger.

    And I had fun doing it all 🙂

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