Talk Funnel

Ramin Firoozye's (occasional) Public Whisperings

Owning a Character

Posted by: Ramin on July 1, 2011

Clayton Miller makes a good case that every OS tries to ‘own’ a shape as a means of creating a strong visual identify. A parallel can be drawn to how online services become strongly associated with certain letters of the alphabet.

Old timers may remember that in the early days of UUCP the ! exclamation mark (also called the bang path) was used to designate the address route from a sender to a receiver. It was common practice to tell someone you could be reached at site!foovax!machine!username.

The @ (at-sign) superceded the bang path and was for years associated with an email address (i.e. user@domain). Then Twitter came along and adopted it as a designator for an individual (ie. @twitterhandle). Along the way Twitter also turned the # (hashtag) into a common designator for a topic abbreviation.

Google’s Plus service has just opened its doors and you can guess at the scope of Google’s ambitions by the way they’re using one of the most common punctuation marks: the + (plus sign). This is used throughout the service as a designator for a user profile. In a note posted to the Plus service Andy Hertzfeld references a number of his colleagues that also worked on the Plus service.


Notice how links to an individual’s profile are shown. There is ubiquitous use of the + character through other parts of the service as well:

Plus Header

Even the URL for the service gets in on the act:

It’s obvious this is a conscious choice on Google’s part to create a strong association and help adopt the letter for itself. You’ll know the grab has been successful when + First Lastname starts popping up on business cards the same way @username started showing up with no explanation needed.

To complete the process Google will have to take two more steps:

  1. Allow a Google profile to have a real name instead of the current numeric designator. My Google profile is: It should be firoozye or at the very least firoozye. Naturally, there will be contention for common names, but that’s an unavoidable problem on just about every service. Both LinkedIn and Facebook support shortened URLs with names pointing to public profiles.
  2. Modify the Google search engine so names prefixed with a + are automatically looked up in the Google Plus or Profile service. The Google search box is everywhere. It should be easy to look someone up by simply entering +name in the search box. This might be a little tough since + is also a boolean operator in the Google search world. But they could make an exception for a single-word search if it starts with a +.

It looks like the we’re in the early stages of the battle of the profiles. Trying to own the + sign is a smart move. Watch for other services as they try to mark their territory on the keyboard.

I’ve got dibs on?ramin.