Sunday, May 13, 2007

People Search Redux

Reading through my last post on People Search, I realize that I did not quite join up the dots. Here is how people search works. It is something I have written about before, and the Search SIG meeting did reveal some new angles.

Firstly, the search engine spiders the web collecting people related information. Next comes the difficult part, arranging the information into profiles where there is one profile per person. This is most difficult for common names like Richard Taylor. Then there are other little variations like nickname, for example, Dick, Rich, Ricky for Richard, spelling variations (Shakespear) and middle names or initials that may or may not be present.

A good profile linked to an identified user is a valuable thing. For example, it can be used to direct advertising to the desired demographic, making the advertising more valuable. As I have noted before this kind of information is most valuable to large internet companies like Yahoo, Google who effectively direct a large part of online advertising.

A profile is much more valuable if the person has taken control of their profile and effectively verified it. So the final step for the people search companies is to create enough awareness that people feel compelled to take control of their own profile. I have run across ZoomInfo profiles that have been verified, so they have started to do this for their specialized audience. Wink and Spock will have to try much harder. I looked at my Wink profile and I was not impressed. I have seen a scarily accurate profile of myself online, and Wink did not come close.

At the meeting, DJ Cline opined that people might be willing to pay money to have their profiles taken down. The panel of search company CEOs disagreed that this was a good model and told us that they would try to talk someone out of demanding that their profile is removed. I think that what this means is that a good profile is actually of more value to others than it is to the target of the profile. Quite apart from that is the thought that blackmail is a "difficult" business model.

Michael Arrington several times expressed the opinion that that Spock would be sued for what they were doing, particularly as one of the example profiles they showed was Bill Clinton with the tag "sex-scandal". I was concerned with a possibility that a profile could be hijacked, as the hijacker could then play tricks to embarrass the target of the profile. A high profile lawsuit or profile hijacking with a lot of attendant publicity could be the catalyst that brings people search to the public attention given what people search gains from an event that makes everyone go out and claim their profile.

However this gets us back to blackmail as a business model. It is one thing for Joe Average to create his own MySpace page. It is quite another thing if Joe Average feels that he has to go out and claim a profile page that someone else has put together without even asking him, just so that he can defend his own good name. People search has had a long history of privacy concerns and it will continue to do so.

No comments: