People Search Tools Populate the Web
Paula J. Hane
Posted On September 1, 2007
Over the last 2 months, my inbox has been deluged with story pitches, requests for briefings, and press releases—all about various new and updated people search tools. Apparently, it’s the new vertical search area that entrepreneurs have decided to tackle—all of them betting they can provide better and more accurate results for people queries than the general Web search engines. According to reports, 30 percent of all searches on Google or Yahoo! are for specific people or people-related information. Here’s a quick update on what’s been happening in this space.
Wink (http://wink.com) is a relaunched people search engine (it started out in social search) that targets "individual people who are active web and social network users." It searches the public profiles on MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, LinkedIn, Live Spaces, and other sources. "We also use our PeopleRank technology that takes direct input about our search results from users and refines it to deliver the results that people think are the best. Wink People Search lets you find people by name, location, school, work, and interest anywhere on the web." As of early August, it claimed to have searched more than 2 hundred million people profiles—and said it’s the largest people search engine.
Spock (http://spock.com) launched in private beta in April and garnered Best of Show at the Web 2.0 conference. It launched its public beta in early August. Spock creates a snapshot of a person’s presence from tapping public sources on the Web, including a brief biographical summary, pictures, and related content. It collects data from Wikipedia, blogs, social sites, etc. It uses email to verify credentials of those who register. One interesting feature—you can search by email address. Spock, like Wink, lets users control their own profiles. However, it’s even more democratic—users can edit the information (tags, relationships, Web sites, etc.) on other people’s profiles as well by "voting." The tags make for some interesting aggregations. Try this tag: 2008 Presidential candidate.
However, don’t forget that some other search sites can provide this as well. The same search over at Ask.com retrieves a Smart Answer for U.S. Presidential Contenders, with candidate profiles, news coverage, and links to national conventions and debates. Clicking on an individual’s profile will bring a snapshot, links to an official site, photos, videos, news videos, and more.
Another new site takes a somewhat different approach. Pipl (www.pipl.com) says it taps the "deep Web" of databases. At this point, I found that Pipl provided the least amount of aggregated information—in running a check on my own name. It did, however, pull broadly from public records databases of phone numbers and addresses and identified people with birthdates (month and year)—and then offered fee-based background checks on Intelius. Of course, there’s the usual mismatching of names with the data. And I was shocked to see links to Social Security Death records—with SSN numbers. As a reporter for InformationWeek described it: "In other words, while Spock helps you guard your reputation, pipl helps you find out some of the down-and-dirty facts about you that are out there in the Web. I’m not sure which is scarier."
PeekYou (www.peekyou.com) is a fairly new site that calls itself "the smartest way to find people online." It’s basically a white pages created by contributors, who create their own profiles and link to their Web sites, social-networking pages, photos, or anything else about them online. Anyone can search by name, username (part of an email or an alias), location, and by tags, which are descriptive keywords or short phrases pertinent to a person. PeekYou distinguishes between life-related, school-related, and work-related tags. In order to edit or submit information on existing profiles, you need to be a registered user.
ZoomInfo (www.zoominfo.com) has been around since 2001, starting as a subscription service and then adding free searching. It has more of a business focus than some of these newer ones that focus on personal information on social networking sites. It claims to have profiles on more than 36 million people and 3.8 million companies.
LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com) is a professional business networking site that lets members create a profile, search for business contacts, and invite others to join their list of connections. It also helps for job searches and business opportunities. Paid accounts offer additional tools. I’ve been using it for several years and just recently have received a rash of connection invitations from industry colleagues.
And then there are the premium services that focus on corporate executives and business relationships: LexisNexis ExecRelate, Leadership Networks, Hoover’s Connect, Thomson Financial and Generate, Inc., etc. See Barbara Quint’s recent NewsBreak about the launch of the first two at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=37079.There seems to be no end to the interest in people tracking. But it’s getting very crowded in the Web-based people search space. Watch for some company fallout and consolidation. I doubt that this many services can survive.