Peeking at PeekYou`s People Search

Some may think it a little ironic, but one of the most popular things to find on the content-rich Internet is people. Many people want to find an old flame or classmate, while others may need to check out a date, a prospective employee, or a new tenant. PeekYou is the latest engine to enter the people search arena. Today we’ll take a peek at what it offers.

PeekYou officially launched in beta in mid-July after having been in stealth mode since October 2006. The site claims to have profiles on more than 50 million people. One blogger did the math and figured that this came out to one in every 7,000 people. The numbers aren’t really that good (though they probably don’t need to be), as I’ll explain in a bit. It claims to be “the Internet’s first true openly edited white pages,” a claim that people search engine Spock might be able to dispute if it wasn’t still in private beta.

PeekYou lists an impressive number of features. It says that each person will have his or her own personalized page and a PeekYou profile that “will include bookmarked links to all information available about that targeted person.” PeekYou says that it can tie numerous online identities to a single individual based on tags and other resources. Users can edit, add or remove information, links, photos, and tags associated not only with their profile, but other PeekYou users’ profiles. Furthermore, individuals can choose to be “unlisted.”

PeekYou was created by and RateMyTeachers/ founder Michael Hussey. He dreams of turning PeekYou into the ultimate open source online people directory. He sees working on a PeekYou profile as “almost like writing a biography about your life on the net” and PeekYou itself as eventually becoming “the ideal engine for individuals to monitor their own online identity.” If he can truly lick the problems inherent in people search, Hussey could get a real edge on his competition. Let’s take a look at the beta.

{mospagebreak title=Getting Started}

I confess that I didn’t find very many people who had commented about PeekYou yet, so after gathering what little information I could I headed directly to the search engine. Here’s a screen shot of the first page:

Well, with that kind of an invitation, who could resist finding out whether or not they’re in the search engine? Is there anyone who isn’t susceptible to ego scanning? So I typed in my name and, just because I could, clicked on the “Advanced Options” arrow just under the first name. This appears to be enabled by Ajax. Here is a screen shot of what came up:

When I typed in my name, the search engine made some suggestions in a floating box next to each entry; once I finished typing it disappeared (so I couldn’t capture it in the screen shot). The drop-down menus give lists of countries, regions, and cities. Under keywords, you can click radio buttons for schools, employers, and usernames to narrow down your search.

Here I noticed a bug almost immediately. I changed “All countries” to USA, and then tried to change it back to “All countries.” It wouldn’t let me change it back. I don’t know whether this is a bug or a feature, but it is a reminder of sorts that it is still in beta.

Oh, by the way, that globe icon in the bottom left? The number changes; after I put in my name and the country, it changed from 48 million to 12. So the next step was to see who these 12 Terri Wellses are…and whether any of them are me.

Above is a screen shot (cropped to fit of course) of the page I saw when I clicked the button to do the search. I’ll save you the mystery and tell you that none of the people listed were me. This was actually a bit disappointing, since Spock found me, and while my online profile might not be as high as some people’s, I’m not exactly invisible.

Perhaps I should have chosen someone more visible, then? Someone like, oh, I don’t know, George Bush, Stephen Hawking, or William Shatner perhaps?

{mospagebreak title=What Happens When You’re a Celebrity}

Being the kind of science fan that I am, I started with Stephen Hawking. An all countries search returned seven results; knowing that he’s currently teaching in the UK, I focused on that. The search returned one link. Did I strike gold? Ummm…not exactly. The link led eventually to a MySpace profile that was clearly fake.

Okay, so would we do better with George Bush? Surely the current U.S. president would be easy for PeekYou to find! Again, the answer was “not quite.” It returned 743 results. Okay, so how about if we narrow down the region? Well, if you have USA on the first drop-down, PeekYou does list all 50 states – but not the District of Columbia.

I tried limiting it to Texas – Bush’s home state – and saw 10 results. There was no way to tell which one, if any, was for George Bush, because every last one of them had an accurate picture of the president next to them. I would have had to check them all, and still had no guarantee that I found the right one.

Before you say that this would not be a common problem for the less-than-famous, consider how many names are very common. I put the name of our CTO, Rich Smith, into PeekYou. I even specified the state. I got back 20 results. Two of them, for Fort Lauderdale, linked to the exact same MySpace profile, which I could tell at a glance wasn’t him. A third one, for Miami, linked to a different MySpace profile, which also wasn’t him. None of the other ones were even close.

Ah, but what about William Shatner? PeekYou returned six results; if we can believe the picture, the second one was the one we were looking for. Here’s what we got, which is pretty much what you’d get for any profile you click on, differing only in details:


Across the top, you can see places to click to fix a misspelled name, to add/edit a location, add a username, report abuse, and add a link. Apparently, you can also get an RSS feed of the profile, and a click on the link for “page history” takes you to a page that shows you all the changes that have been made to the profile.

Under the picture you’ll see buttons for tags, report abuse, add tag, and “what is this?” Clicking on that last one gives you a pop-up box that explains what a tag is and what good tag form is; it also gives examples of good and bad tags. You can’t submit a tag unless you are a member.

Not visible in this profile (because I cropped it) is a shoutbox. You can use it to post whatever you want to, so long as it relates to the profile you are viewing. All shoutbox comments are policed by PeekYou admins, and they won’t permit “abusive/irrelevant/spam comments.” The link in William Shatner’s profile, by the way, appears to lead to a legitimate MySpace page for the Star Trek actor.

{mospagebreak title=Signing Up}

I knew there had to be more functionality to the search engine if I signed up. First, I wanted to check the FAQ. I was glad to see PeekYou using Ajax; click on a question and the answer neatly slides down under it. I discovered that it is possible for registered users to have their IP address blocked if the search engine’s spam filters determine that their IP address is sending spam, in which case they can’t do certain things with the search engine. I also discovered that cities only get added when people who actually hail from that city have profiles listed in PeekYou (which makes a certain amount of sense).

Registration is easy; it’s worth keeping in mind, though, that it doesn’t create a PeekYou profile (as the search engine itself explicitly points out). Registering an account lets you message other members, track your additions and edits to PeekYou, and create a watch list so you can follow changes to your favorite profiles. The form asks for your user name, password, first name, last name, and email address, as well as your location. The verification email arrived instantly.

After clicking on the verification link in the email, I arrived at the PeekYou web site, where I logged in. After logging in I came to a page with separate sections for my contributions, my preferences, my inbox, and my watch list. And I was able to add a “star trek” tag to William Shatner’s profile. It wasn’t instantly recorded as a “contribution,” however.

Naturally I wanted more; I wanted to contribute my own profile. So I clicked on the “add profile” link near the top left on the home page. It took me to the following form, which I’ve already started filling in:


As you can see from the drop-down, I can add a variety of different types of links. Well, okay, let’s see if we can’t round this profile out a little bit. I’m a little photo shy when it comes to these reviews, but many PeekYou profiles didn’t have images. Links are a different story. Making sure I was logged out first, I found myself on Searchles and included a link. Then I wanted to include another link, for LinkedIn; unfortunately, I couldn’t get signed out of LinkedIn (the browser was taking forever). That’s when I encountered another PeekYou bug; despite the second link being totally blank, PeekYou insisted that I fill it in before adding the profile, and did not show any way to get rid of the “blank” link. I finally resorted to including a link to one of my SEO Chat articles and listing it as “Others.”

After adding a couple of tags, here is my PeekYou profile:

PeekYou now finds 13 entries with the name Terri Wells, with my as the lucky thirteenth. I wanted to add this new profile to my watch list, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. There was a link to an RSS feed for the profile, but that didn’t seem to do what I wanted. I didn’t want to receive email every time the profile changed; I just wanted to receive something in my onsite inbox when it changed.

So, what is my analysis of PeekYou? The company has some serious bugs to work out. The interface works fairly well, except for some infuriating issues which I already mentioned. It definitely has not solved the problem of making sure that its profiles are of real people, and it seems to have been slow to get everyone important. I do like its use of Ajax, and it does seem to be working on potential spam problems. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by what I saw when I reviewed Spock, but PeekYou seems not to be nearly as far along as Spock – and Spock is still in private beta. In short, I don’t think this is the people search engine we’ve been looking for.

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