Desperately looking for someone

By July 10, 2007

According to some estimates, 30% of all Internet searches are people-related. To “Google somebody” is now such a common practice that it is part of the vernacular. Hoping to overtake the search giant, several start-ups are explor

ing this promising niche. Among people search engines, specialization is already at work. LinkedIn and ZoomInfo look for business executives within their own network or beyond. UpScoop goes searching for people who are in your address book. Other engines (ProfileLinker, Streakr, Wink) basically trawl the main social networks. One of the most promising start-ups is Spock which should launch its engine within weeks with 100 million profiles. Atelier met Spock’s CEO Jaideep Singh at their spartan Redwood City offices for a chat and a demo. Atelier: What are the needs for people searching? Jaideep Singh: It has an important utility factor, but we also search for people for curiosity and entertainment. We could not have built Spock three years ago because there was not enough rich data out there. In the last few years, people have left a lot of information about themselves in a lot of places. So we feel there is a need to organize and present data around people. What Google is to searching for sites and what Amazon is to looking for products, we want to be for looking for people.   A: How do you go about it? J.S.: Technology is a continuum and each generation leverages what has come before. We are one layer above other sites and have API (application programming interface) with them. We are very open, Our data center is running on open source. The indexing is done with spiders, crawlers and bots on a large number of sites. Our technology is able to erase irrelevant pages like a page by an individual claiming to be Superman. Then we assign tags to the pages. We are going to launch with 100 million profiles, but we have already crawled 400 million people. We started with celebrities to train the algorithm, but now there are lots of other people. At this point, 75% of the profiles are US-based.   A: How do you search on Spock? J.S.: On Google, you search by name. On Spock, you search by attributes. If you type “democrat”, our ranking algorithm will bring up results based on many times the key word appears in that person. For example, you can search for “Google employee” and get a list of results. Another feature is that we can collect the people in your address book and do a search on them. Then you can ask Spock “Who in my network is a VC or a golfer in the Bay Area?”   A: How do you present the information? J.S.: We present the person with a series of tags. Each user can vote yes/no on the tags as well as add their own to make them more relevant. Then we present a series of sites discussing the person. There is also a section with pictures and users again can vote on them. We also present related people like family members and others. On the homepage, we offer a top ten (top ten people, top ten searches) which are constantly evolving.   A: Tell us about Spock as a company J.S.: We have 20 people here in Redwood City and 6 in India. We started in March 2006 and have very strong business and technical advisers many of them from Stanford. About two months ago, we invited people in to get their feedback. We have ten thousands of beta testers. Our business model is ad-driven and we will have to build our own ad network. [According to TechCrunch, Spock raised $7 million in a Series A round of financing]. As far as the competition, our competitors are small companies and are not doing anything on that scale. ZoomInfo is not planning to go into consumer-related search, Wink has less technology. We have a huge head start on Google. It is going to be hard for a large company like them to catch up. Search on Isabelle Boucq, for Atelier   FEEDBACK For comments on this article, email us at

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