Yasni: Yet Another People Search Engine?

Google’s mastery of search sometimes makes us forget its shortcomings. Specialized search engines insist that they deliver better, more relevant results for their particular fields. That seems especially true in the area of people search, despite the many search engines in this field that fall short of their promises. Today I’m going to take a look at Yasni, and see if it stands apart from its competition.

People search engine Yasni recently launched in the United States, but it boasts European roots. It was reviewed by Killer Start Ups, but already delivers numbers beyond what you would expect from a typical start-up: nearly 24 million page views per month and about eight million monthly visitors in five countries. That doesn’t hold a candle to Google, which fielded more than six billion searches from the US alone in October 2008, according to comScore Media Matrix. But every company has to start somewhere, and there are site owners who would kill for that kind of traffic.

So how does Yasni do it? “We run an extensive global people search resource, and have gathered a lot of public data about what people look for and how they act on that information,” explained Steffen Ruehl, Yasni founder and CEO. “Global” is certainly the right word for this search engine; its pull-down menu includes options for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, and of course the US. It’s also global in the sense of the sources it indexes; Phil Bradley noted in his blog that the search engine pulls results from Wikipedia, Amazon, LinkedIn, NamesDatabase, MySpace, Friendster, Jigsaw, Vox, jobster, IMDb, Google News and blog search, Bloglines, Find a Grave and more.

{mospagebreak title=An Unexpected Home Page}

Yasni’s German origins show very clearly on their home page, even when it is set to display the US version of the site. Here’s a screen shot to show you what I mean:

Yes, US citizens are generally way too monolingual, especially if a home page that looks like this is too unsettling. But it’s a peculiarity of the market, and Yasni needs to address it. John Angelo, a spokesperson for Yasni, noted that the version of the site shown to registered US users is completely in English, and that the particular problem I found is being addressed; indeed, it appears to have been addressed now, so at least some of my next comments might not apply by the time you read this.

At the time they had this issue, Yasni presented some buttons and links in English, but most of them were in German. Their meaning was usually obvious from the context (like the big orange “suchen” button next to the text box). When it wasn’t, Yasni’s creators offered a nice workaround – hover over a link, and a tool tip appeared with the English translation.

This wasn’t true for all links. Three links at the bottom (not shown here) didn’t yield tool tips: Impressum, AGB, and Datenshutz. Clicking the links took you to Legal Information (the company address, contact data, and more), Terms of Use, and the Data Protection Declaration, respectively. Now, thankfully, they’re in very clear English: "Legal," "Terms" and "Privacy." Since Yasni is based in Germany, which is part of the European Union, it must adhere to EU rules in the handling of personal information. Even beyond that, though, they seem to “get it;” the Data Protection Declaration looks like a very strict privacy policy. By the way, the information at all of these links was in very good English, presented in large pop-up boxes.

The site let me down in one area I consider important: no About Us page. Maybe I’m the only one out there who wants to find out how a company got its start, how they envision themselves, or what improvements and features we can expect to see, but somehow I don’t think so. I couldn’t find a press area, company blog, history, or even a single press release. Indeed, what background information I could get about Yasni came from a press release I received via email, and my communication with the spokesperson who sent it. (I will say he was very much on the ball and quick to reply to my queries).

{mospagebreak title=Getting Registered}

I tried a search or two without registering and discovered, much to my dismay, that Yasni returned results in German, even though I was supposedly using the US version of the site. Since it now shows in English for the US version regardless of whether someone is logged in, this should no longer be an issue. At the time of writing this article, however, I had to register – and that’s a bit of a minus right there. Web users like free services, and would rather use many of those services, such as search, without having to register or log in.

To judge from the way the site behaved and the words on the links, registering involves creating a profile. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to think of those as two separate acts. Would it have made more sense to use the word “Register” and let users register with minimal information, then complete their profile later? Well, as it turns out, Yasni does just that; let’s check out the process.

Clicking on the “Create Profile” link at the top of the home page pops up a box to get the ball rolling. Here’s a screen shot:

So I need to put in my full name (first and last), an email address, and a password. I also need to read the Terms of Use and the Privacy Statement, or at least check both boxes. Not surprisingly, the Terms of Use forbid aliases; you have to be truthful about your identity. There are other important items in there as well, and I’d recommend actually reading the Terms of Use before signing up; they’re not the simplest ones I’ve ever seen, but I’ve read much worse. It took me about six minutes to read it.

Once I clicked the link, a pop-up box appeared to inform me that my Yasni profile was saved successfully and a confirmation email had been sent. Clicking on the link in the email would make the profile accessible. Furthermore, the message suggested that I ask friends to confirm my profile – to increase my credibility and raise my VIP rank, whatever that was. It wasn’t mentioned in the Help section (which was set up like a frequently asked questions page). I couldn’t log in to use the site until I’d received my confirmation email.

Clicking on the link in the confirmation email took me to Yasni’s web site, and displayed a pop-up box to let me log in. Once I logged in, I flipped the flag to in the drop-down to US (it had flipped to German after I logged in), and at last I saw a page entirely in English!

I know, you can’t see too much. Don’t worry, I’ll be going over each area of the web site and providing you with plenty of screen shots cropped to highlight particular sections, so you can see what’s going on. Right now I’m running out of space, however, so in the next section I’ll give you a summary, with more to come in the second part next week.

{mospagebreak title=Summary of Services}

Okay, so I had to register before I could use Yasni for anything. What can I do with the search engine now? Well, the site works a little like a cross between a social site and a search engine. We’ve seen this kind of thing before; Yasni does it in its own way, of course. I’ll show you everything with screen shots in the second and final part of this review. Right now, I’m going to list the services Yasni offers, grabbed from its Terms of Use.

First, of course, is the people search aspect, which is open to everyone. Yasni only pulls information that is available to the general public. If you’re not registered, this is all you can do at the company’s web site. Once you register, a whole range of services opens up to you.

You can create your own personal public web profile with your own information. You can evaluate search results or information on other registered users by various criteria. You can contact other users electronically, confirm contacts and communicate with them. It sounds very much like a social site, right? All of these services are currently free of charge, and will probably stay free, but Yasni “reserves the right to offer certain extended services (e.g. so-called premium services) for a price.” Good luck with that.

Also, after you register, Yasni apparently keeps a special eye out for you. When I came back to the site after some absence, Yasni reported on the home page that it had found 234 more items on me. Intrigued, I clicked the link. Most of them weren’t me, of course, but a good number of the items were. Some linked to sites that were ripping off our content (that seems almost inevitable ), but more linked to sites that cited and/or summarized some article I’d written. Some, strangely enough, linked to sites that required a login. This puzzled me. It meant that Yasni was able to spider information that I couldn’t even get to because I didn’t have a login on that site. I know that many of the major search engines get that kind of information; I didn’t know a smaller outfit like Yasni could also get it. So much for "walled gardens"!

By the way, the search box isn’t always an ordinary search box. When I clicked on the text box to start a people search, it changed to include a keyword section. It’s a nice touch, because it lets you use a keyword associated with that person to distinguish them from others who might have the same name. Here’s a screen shot so you can see what I mean:

What this means is that someone could search for me and specify “SEO” or “tech writer” or whatever seems appropriate so that they don’t turn up all of the other people named Terri Wells. That’s good to know; there’s at least one other Terri Wells out there who writes technology-related articles (though not SEO-related, as far as I know).

One word about the search results: overwhelming. But in a good way. I put my own name in, and it returned 80 results. At the time of writing, I hadn’t sifted through them to see which ones are mine and which aren’t. If you’re editing your profile, however, you can use searches on your own name to fill out your profile; there are check boxes next to every link to let you add it! In the next part, we’ll take a look at profiles and a closer look at searches. See you then!

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