Spock, a first look

Earlier in the week I got an invite to the yet-to-be release people search engine (thanks to TechCrunch), and have spent a bit of time playing with the Beta. Here are my thoughts.

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Yesterday I wrote about Explode's new people search functionality, which will inevitably be compared to the much hyped but yet-to-launch Spock, even though at this stage the two services are trying to tackle slightly different problems. Whereas Explode seems to be primarily a meta-social network, with search as a means to discover and connect with new people who may share similar interests, Spock is aiming to be the Google of people search, with a bunch of social features (such as tagging and profiles) thrown in. Despite still being in private invite-only beta, the service has already crawled around 200 sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia and IMDB, and claims to have indexed over 100 million people, with "millions added every day".

Earlier in the week I got an invite to Spock (thanks to TechCrunch), and have spent a bit of time playing with the Beta.

As part of joining the site (which seems to be a requirement of using the service), you're asked to fill out your profile, meaning that the sign-up process automatically adds you to their index. You can then associate tags and sites you belong to or own with your search result. Next up I searched my own name only to find that I'd already been indexed via my LindedIn profile -- so now there were two of me. To solve this problem of duplication, you are given the option to claim and merge any results with the profile you created when signing up, and you do this by handing over log-in details for that particular third party service (in this case LinkedIn). So in theory I could search for all of my different user names for the various third party sites that Spock indexes and consolidate them into one profile. Nice!

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So far so good. However, where things get a little bit more interesting and controversial is that anybody is free to add additional tags to a search result. So, similar to Wikipedia entries, you don't get total control over how you're represented. For example, the result for pop singer Michael Jackson has some potentially libelous tags associated with it (see screen shot).

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As Tim O'Reilly notes in his early review:

It will be interesting to see how Spock balances people's desire to manage their own image with the public data the search engine finds... They do allow users to vote information up or down, but that may or may not be enough. I'll bet that entries on prominent people end up needing to be closed.

Once Spock rolls out to the public, I'll be watching to see how they decide to resolve these kind of issues. However, despite the potential to have Spock represent you in an unsatisfactory way, the fact that you can claim your results and have some direct influence must be preferable to the page-rank based results for a people search done through Google.

Spock is certainly an ambitious and brave attempt at solving the people search problem, and I suspect we'll see many more entrants to this space -- including Google themselves.

Related post: Explode adds people search