Have you ever published your personal details on the web? Now everyone can see them, thanks (or not) to a very powerful search engine.
If you have a web service that happens to be very good at searching, you probably have something that the world needs. Just ask Google. People will always seek answers in this ocean of information. Google does an impressive job by providing accurate information within fractions of seconds, which is the essence of good searching. Some companies like Cuil.com and Powerset.com are trying to compete with Google by providing different approaches to searching, but it is still hard to cope with the gigantic monster. If you want to become a leading player in searching, you better try dominating a niche in which Google is less strong.
People searches are one such niche. These search engines are dedicated to exposing information about people. Few players are competing in this game, and each attacks it from a different angle. Spock and Wink are two examples. All of them are doing a fine job but there is one relatively new player (at least PR wise) that’s doing an excellent job. Like Google it provides very accurate information in a very short period of time.
This impressive service is called Pipl.com, a New Jersey-based startup that was established in 2006 but has only recently begun to publicly emerge. Like its competitors, it enables searches for people by their first name, last name, email or username. Unlike its competitors, the information that Pipl.com provides is much more comprehensive and includes quick facts, pictures, contact details, personal profiles, blog posts, publications, documents and news on the search subject. Actually, it’s so good that it’s frightening. It seems that there’s nothing you can hide from Pipl.com. If the information has ever been published, anywhere on the web, this unstoppable search engine will find it.
|Barack Obama on Pipl.com||Barack Obama on Spock.com||Barack Obama on Wink.com|
So what makes Pipl.com such a good people search? How does it reach the darkest corners of the internet? The thing that distinguishes Pipl.com from its competitors is that it does not go to the traditional data sources for gathering information. Other people search engines are gathering information from social networks and/or Wikipedia, and some are powering the results with human tagging. Pipl.com is taking a totally different approach by going to a mysterious source of data, called the Deep Web.
Just as the ocean’s surface has been well-explored while its depths remain largely mysterious, the internet has its deep unknown. The information that traditional search engines expose comes from only the surface of the web. This information is what current crawling technology, which search engines use to index the web, is capable of reaching. The majority of the web has actually never been searched, because it cannot be accessed by traditional search crawling techniques. The Deep Web consists of the following web pages:
- Pages that are not linked from anywhere else
- Dynamically generated pages
- Password-protected pages
- Pages that use technical ways to avoid search indexing (captcha, robots file, etc).
The deep web is considered to be much, much bigger than the surface web.
To reach the deep web, Pipl.com is using a technique called federated search, which was designed to simultaneously search several databases that maps the deep web. In addition, they filter the results using metadata comparisons to other data sources, in order to float up the most important data. This is why its results are so rich and informative. I have seen people start scratching their heads in astonishment after searching for themselves in Pipl.com. They were amazed to see their old addresses and other old contact details. They didn’t believe it could be found, or that they even ever published it.
Of course, you can argue about the privacy issue. Exposing people’s personal information is a sensitive manner – even big Google has to cope with occasional lawsuit here and there. Is it OK to expose people’s contact details and information they might want to hide? Well, I guess that since the current direction of the internet enables private people to create online identities, one must know that if he or she puts any kind of personal information on the web, it will eventually be found, and one must be responsible of what one exposes. Besides, if a search engine is being accused of finding too much information, it’s probably doing a very good job.
The Business Perspective
Pipl.com relies on an advertising-based business model. At least for now. They deliver text ads and sponsored links that give the site a white and clean look. (Remind you of some other search engine?) However, will advertising stay the only income source? I am not sure. For example, another people search engine, Zoominfo.com, uses a different model, showing some of the data for free, but requires a premium subscription – starting at $100 a month – if you want to get a more complete picture. The company is profitable, so this model seems to be working for them.
Will Pipl.com do the same? I don’t see any reason for such a good service not to. They can still stay free for the masses and only charge businesses that will use Pipl.com for business activities. Maybe they’ll develop a designated system for helping businesses recruit new employees, gather information on competitors, and identify professionals and other business-related issues.
Go Look for Them
So if you want to look for your neighbour’s criminal history, check for your girlfriend’s past lovers, discover all of your web footprints or just scare somone by showing him how much you know about him, go to Pipl.com and see it all there.