Can 123People Find You?

Last week I began reviewing Austria-based 123People.com, a new search engine trying to make some headway in the vertical niche of people search. People search engines are useful to everyone from employers to stalkers, but does 123People have what it takes to be useful? In this second and final part, we’ll dive right in with a bunch of searches and see what we get for results.

Profiles

I had to search for myself, of course. Below I’m showing you just one section of the results, because I couldn’t fit it all into one screen shot; you’d have to scroll down to see everything. Basically, 123People sets up the results page in sections, with each section devoted to a particular type of information. Let me show you what I mean:

As you can see (if you look closely; I had to shrink and crop to fit), you can request email updates for this particular search. Just below that you get a summary of what was found: 31 web links, 37 images, 14 videos, 47 social network profiles, 32 emails, 16 phone numbers, 19 blogs, 20 documents, 6 Amazon references, 6 instant messages, but no news items. While none of the email addresses or phone numbers are mine, the fourth and fifth web links go to SEO Chat articles I have written.

Before I go into any detail as to what 123People knows about me, I’d like to point out a few interesting aspects of these modular results. In the lower left corner of each box, you can click on arrows to page through the results, and you always know where you are thanks to the numbering system. Near the top of each box on the right are tabs; you can click on these tabs if you want to see results only from a particular source. Icons next to each result also tell you where it came from. The icons next to the phone numbers let you call the person by using Jalal, a program with which I am not familiar.

In all, about 13 or 14 different sections covering different types of information, all publicly available on the Internet, are crammed into this one results page. I’ve seen more crowded web pages, but not very often. On the other hand, the page didn’t feel too crowded to me. Suzanne Koch, reviewing 123People for Pandia Search Engine News, however, noted that “all this information makes the search results page feel crammed and it can be overwhelming to navigate.” She wished she had the option of closing the sections she didn’t need.

Some things showed up that I expected, while others took me by surprise. For example, I expected the top web link to be about my, ah, exhibitionist namesake’s legal run-in with Playboy Enterprises (which she won). But I didn’t expect a tag cloud, which you could click to focus in on the results related to particular keywords. Other search engines and social bookmarking sites have used tag clouds to good effect, though, as Koch noted in her review, it’s still a feature that seems to be most helpful to more advanced web searchers.

Given that 123People provided a tag cloud, I expected the words “technology” and “SEO” in the tag cloud (believe it or not, I’m not the only Terri Wells out there that writes about technology-related topics online!). But here’s a section that shows a couple of things I didn’t expect:

On the right you can see the tag cloud; next to it, on the left, you’ll see a box labeled “Blogs.” The fourth entry in this box is “How I SEO my WordPress Blog – A Beginners Guide Part 2.” I know I didn’t write anything like that, so I followed the link. I discovered the reason that link was included under “Blogs;” the author of the blog cited me with a link back to the article referenced in the post!

The other surprise was in the “Documents” section on the right, with my name under Wil Wheaton’s. I hadn’t written anything about Wil Wheaton, so what was going on there? As it turned out, the link went back to a monthly online magazine that Developer Shed used to publish. My byline appeared on several articles in that particular issue, which featured Wil Wheaton on the cover and an interview with the actor on the inside (by a different author). It’s worth noting that this is an old item – at least three to four years old, in fact. I’m not entirely certain how 123People got this information, since it was taken off the web a couple of years ago, maybe more.

As to social networking profiles, 123People found me on LinkedIn, and of course, plenty of other profiles that weren’t me. In case you were wondering, none of the images shown at the top of this 123People profile were me either.

Being the exploratory sort that I am (read: I’m still working on this article’s word count), I decided to check out the tag cloud. So I clicked on “SEO” and was promptly greeted by some more surprises.

Notice the first and third links listed here, in the Weblinks section of 123People’s results. Yes, they lead to articles by me, but the site is not SEO Chat. When I followed the link, I found that my entire article was there – lifted and attributed, but with no link back to the original source. This, my friends, is content theft – not by 123People, of course, but by the site that displayed it, and to which 123People so helpfully led me.

Nor was this the only example of content theft I found. Paging through the web links turned up at least four other links that led to my content published on sites without SEO Chat’s (or my) permission. For the record, we NEVER allow one of our articles to be published online completely on any site other than our own. We do permit (when asked nicely) site owners to publish the first paragraph of an article with a link back to the full article on our own web site. So I knew we hadn’t granted permission for republishing these articles.

The feature that allows you to receive email updates on particular names and searches now makes sense to me. If you’re a writer who is concerned about theft of your intellectual property, you can receive alerts for new uses of your name. You can do this through Google, too, of course, but at least in theory the results from 123People should be more focused. (Whether this is true in practice remains to be seen).

I know far too many Smiths, and trying to hunt them down with 123People is futile. I thought I found an old Amazon shipping address for one of them, but it was on a wish list of books that he clearly never would have wanted. I also have the disadvantage of having friends who possess names made more famous by others (it’s not just me).

But my investigations weren’t entirely hopeless or fruitless. In searching for one friend of mine, I was pleasantly surprised to see that several images of her came up on the first page. Clicking on an image enlarges it tremendously, neatly overlaying the rest of your data. For example:

And of course you can click the X in the upper right corner to return it to its former thumbnail size. Hovering over the blue “source” on the lower left reveals the image’s URL; you can click “source” to be taken to a full-sized version of the image on a different page, but you will not get the content surrounding the image. In other words, you will only get the image out of its context.

For this particular search, my friend was all over the results. I didn’t find her current phone number, home address, or even email address, but in addition to the images she showed up in the web links, documents, blogs, biography entries (not bios of her, but ones by her), and more. I discovered she’d received an award three years ago that she never told me about (and boy is she going to hear about that from me!). I could quickly identify the words in the tag cloud that were related to her, including her hobbies, her husband’s first and last names, and her penchant for stress.

About the tag cloud again: it’s worth mentioning that if you click on a word in the tag cloud, the entire cloud will either disappear or change. My friend’s cloud disappeared when I clicked on certain words, but when I clicked on “SEO” on the tag cloud under my own results, it simply changed. New tags turned up, and old ones went away, but a number of them were still relevant – most notably, the “Searchles” tag appeared. I reviewed the Searchles search engine twice and have a (much neglected of late) profile there; I’ve contributed somewhere between a hundred and two hundred links to the social bookmarking site.

So, what is my final opinion? 123People is a potentially useful first effort, but it seems as if it would be uneven if you are looking for someone you don’t know well. It still needs work, but it’s worth watching to see what develops. 

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