Finding People with 123People

123People joined the legion of vertical search engines that specialize in finding people online. If you’ve ever tried to track down old classmates or get a handle on a potential employee’s background, you know how much information Google returns; do we really need something this specialized? Yes we do; keep reading to find out why, and whether 123People delivers.

I’m not exactly the best example for this; as of this writing, the first result returned for my name in Google is my bio on SEO Chat, which links to all of my articles. So let’s use our CTO: Richard Smith. The man is musical, but he’s not the “Finger Picking Virtuoso” returned by Google as the first result under his name; nor is he a football player, a former editor of the British Medical Journal, a rabid Boston-based privacy activist…you get the idea. Even adding “computer programmer” to his name doesn’t help; I get the activist instead.

This is the kind of problem for which people search engines came about in the first place. If you can’t find someone, or you can’t tell when you’ve found the right person, via a general search engine, perhaps a focused one will deliver what you’re missing. I’ve reviewed so many different search engines – some of them people search engines – that I’ve become somewhat jaded. What can 123People give me that would make me more likely to use it to find someone than, say, ZoomInfo or Spock or even Google?

Austria-based 123People says that it “looks into nearly every corner of the Web to help you find information on everyone you (want to) know.” They draw their data from “an extensive list of international sources like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Xing, YouTube and Wikipedia.” The data they return includes images, videos, phone numbers, email addresses, social networking profiles, and more.

All of this might sound a little like a privacy invasion, but the search engine explicitly limits itself to information that is publicly available on the Internet. It does not find password-protected information. It doesn’t “match” any information; it only lists the search results separated by type. 123People went through months in private beta before launching in the US in late October 2008. As you would expect from all good start-ups, it has its own blog — in fact, it has two: one in English and one in German.

I decided to review 123People after a quick look at its interface and the way it delivers results. Here’s a shot of the search engine’s home page, with an explanation of the salient parts (with close-ups) to follow:


Yes, I know, it’s impossible to make out any detail, but don’t worry, I’ll cover the interesting stuff with screen shots. So let’s start on the upper left. What are those characters all the way in the corner?


It’s a tab that lets you change the language. While it came up in English for me, a simple click will change it to Italian, French, or German (“Deutsch” is the German word for German, hence the “DE” abbreviation). True, Google’s language skills are far more extensive, but this is a nice touch, and makes a lot of sense for a search engine based in Europe. Some reviewers have commented that 123People really needs to expand the number of languages it offers. In contrast, however, if Spock and ZoomInfo present their information in any language other than English, I couldn’t find it.

The next section across the top allows registered users to sign in. What do you get for registering with the site? 123People sends you regular updates regarding search results, and lets you manage email addresses that are found on 123People, as long as you verify that they are yours. You can also get the company’s newsletter if you choose. A number of reviewers of the search engine mentioned that you get some control over profile information (tags and such), but they reviewed it in beta; some of that functionality seems to be eliminated, or else I couldn’t find it.

After the login area you can choose to “Tell a Friend.” Clicking this button pops up a form into which you can enter your own and your friend’s information (just name and email); you can also opt to receive more information about 123People through this form. Actually the check box that lets you do so is checked by default, so you’d have to opt out.

Next to the “Tell a Friend” button is one for 123People’s toolbar. Be warned; judging from the way my browser behaved, the site tries to install the toolbar automatically when you click the button. I was not amused.

Next to the toolbar button is the one that takes you to the form that lets you register. It looks pretty standard:

 
Maybe it’s me, but I’m not sure why the “gender” radio button is there. As you can see, the check box next to “Yes, I want to get updates from 123people” is clicked by default. I would like to say, however, that I was impressed with their drop-down menu; the list of countries was tremendous, and even included places that, by their own admission, don’t exist anymore (such as Democratic Yemen).

All this and I haven’t even shown you a search yet! Before I do that, though, I’m going to show you something you can access that is all the way over on the top right. It’s a little white word that says “Index.” A search engine with an index? I wouldn’t have believed it until I clicked on it. You can drill down through the index to find your person. Let me show you, in images, the drill-down I did for myself. First, there’s the main level; here’s a portion of it, cropped to fit:


 
Obviously I need to click on “Wel:”

 

I had to crop this image, but trust me, Wells is there. As you can see, 123people also offers indexes for individual parts of the world, at least for some searches. So what happens when I click on “Wells”?

Even with my ruthless cropping, you can tell that I’m not included on their list. (That doesn’t mean that I’m not in their database somewhere, as you’ll see in the second part). Spock found me, but then again I have a profile with them; I would have expected that. ZoomInfo did not find me, despite my refining by location. So I can’t really hold it against 123People that they didn’t find me this way.

Let me take you to another part of 123People’s home page. As with the index, I was a little confused when I saw it. What does it mean? Specifically, what’s with the hyperlinked dates?


Just as with the index, you can click on any one of those dates and 123People will take you to a list of people it updated on that day. Here’s an example:


It may not look like it, but every person’s entry on this list is an active link, which takes you to their profile page.

Before you ask, a profile page apparently is NOT something you get for registering with the search engine. One of 123People’s beta testers noted in her review that “you can claim a profile and layer in bits of information about yourself,” but that functionality has apparently been removed; I could not do this, even after I registered. I can only assume the search engine has chosen to go in a different direction, less toward social networking and more toward aggregating information.

In the next part, I’ll take a really in-depth look at the profile pages, leaving no section unturned. You’ll see a few surprises that I manage to find, and some very unexpected uses for 123People – beyond stalking someone. Don’t miss it!

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