"Spock" People Search

TechCrunch previews Spock, a people-oriented search service. Like Google, they are indexing the entire web, but with some built-in data structure assumptions. If Google tried to catalog pages rather than just associate them, it would need a metadata standard. It would make no sense to have, e.g., a “first name” field attached to a page about Linux, Limburger cheese, or the limbic system. Since Spock knows it’s dealing with people, e.g., John Linell, it knows what blank fields to create and try to fill.

Spock auto-creates tags for individuals based on the information they find. Prominent tags for Bill Clinton, for example, include “former U.S. President, “Great Leader,” “Womanizer,” “Left Handed,” “Democrat,” and “Saxophonist,” among others. Spock also auto detects other relevant meta data about the individual – age, location and sex.

This specialization should allow Spock to give higher-quality results about people than a generalized search engine. Of course, it’s only as savvy about people as its designers know how to make it, so this approach would not scale to every specialized type of data. But since we care a lot about people — Spock claims 30% of web searches are for people — this is probably a useful, if limited, approach.

And for those of you who are relying on privacy through obscurity, there are already several indexing tools that will bring potential stalkers right to your door. If you have a little bit of personal info on several sites, that data could be automatically aggregated to build a full set of personal info — be careful!

Spock is pre-release and for now, you need an invitation to try it.

2 replies on “"Spock" People Search”

That’s spooking me, Eli! And making me think I should take down all personal information about me anywhere on the web. (Not that I think anybody out there is tracking me, but still.)

So is this where things are going, toward search engines rather than the production of single-source good-content sites? I’m looking at this as a librarian and wondering why a person would run a name through Spock and not just consult a biographical resource, like Contemporary Authors, or Biography and Genealogy Master Index, or even an encyclopedia, or even Wikipedia (there, I said it). If you just need a bio of the President, why wouldn’t you just look in a collection of presidential biographies? Why would you use a special search engine?

On the one hand, Google will find the most popular pages that mention the person, even if they are quite obscure — but not necessarily containing info you need. Wikipedia will have an entry if the person is famous, and relevant info. But if that entry hasn’t been updated recently, or worse, has been updated by an enemy…

Biographical encyclopedias are at the other end of the spectrum, with reliable research but stale information. They have an even higher threshold of fame than Wikipedia, so they will skip many people.

Spock is a hybrid between all of these approaches. Like Google, it needs no editorial intervention so it can scale to the entire internet and dynamically update its information. Like Wikipedia, it relies on user contributions when it generates its tags. But unlike Wikipedia, its descriptions are the results of distributed, independent information, which greatly improves its “authoritativeness”. And like biographical encyclopedias, it collects all the relevant information in one entry.

Anyway, that’s the theory. We’ll see how it works when they open up the service.

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