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Searching for People with ZoomInfo

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ZoomInfo is a free service that's gathered information about more than 25 million people—including you, if you have even a minimal presence on the web.

Searching for information about people is one of the most common things people do on the web. Look at any of the query reporting services, such as Google's Zeitgeist, the Lycos 50 or the Yahoo Buzz Index, and the names of celebrities or notorious people invariably crowd the top the lists.

Searching for information about people you know, like friends, neighbors, ex-lovers (and admit it—yourself!) is such a common activity on Google that it has become a verb. Problem is, Googling someone who hasn't accumulated a lot of PageRank or other Google cred du jour is at best a crap shoot, with results that make it all but impossible to distinguish between John Doe and Jon Doh.

ZoomInfo was created specifically to help searchers locate accurate, reliable information about people. The service crawls the web much like others search engine, but focuses on information about people. Using a combination of artificial intelligence and natural language techniques, ZoomInfo connects information about individuals from disparate sources and gradually builds up online resumes that include employment information, educational background and other details.

It's a useful service, but not without flaws. Because ZoomInfo profiles are assembled by machine algorithms, without any human or editorial intervention, they essentially amount to a "best guess" collection of anecdotal information about individuals.

Start with a search for a name, like Chris Sherman. There I am at the top of the result page: "Chris V. Sherman at SearchDay." A promising start, but my middle name is James.

What about the rest of the information ZoomInfo has collected? Here's its profile of me. The information in the profile is mostly accurate, and I'm impressed with some of the things the service has uncovered. All of the information was gleaned from the web.

Others have found more serious flaws in their profiles. Searchblog author John Battelle, for example, found ZoomInfo reported that he was the founder of WebMD, CEO of Northern Light and CEO of A9 among many others. Battelle is no slouch—he was a co-founder of Wired Magazine, publisher of the Industry Standard, etc. But ZoomInfo mistakenly bloated his vita in bizarre ways.

ZoomInfo provides tools for focusing the scope of your searches, which can be very helpful when searching for information about someone with a common name. Next to every search form is a drop-down menu that allows you to narrow your search for people associated with a particular company or university.

For even more options, the advanced search page lets you find profiles ZoomInfo has collected for all employees associated with a company, alumni from a university or people mentioned on a specific web site.

ZoomInfo caches the pages it crawls, allowing you to examine the sources from which information is extracted. A link on each web summary that tells you the number of sources that were used to compile a profile; click this link and you will get a page that looks like search results showing summaries and links to the full text of the web pages.

What about privacy issues? The information ZoomInfo has collected is all freely available on the web. The company doesn't buy data from information brokers or other sources. And the focus on professional and educational details, rather than personal information, combined with a straightforward privacy policy, should alleviate most concerns.

"The information we're collecting is to a large extent the stuff you're proud of," said Russell Glass, ZoomInfo's director of consumer products. Glass rightly points out that once information gets on the web there's not too much anyone can really do to control or remove it.

To help assure accuracy, ZoomInfo allows you to edit your web summary, or create a new profile if the company hasn't yet built one about you.

Taking control of your own ZoomInfo web summary

If you create an account with ZoomInfo, you can:

  • Create or update your Web Summary
  • Correct any mistakes in your web summary
  • Combine multiple Web Summaries that refer to you into one
  • Register and secure your Web Summary
  • Receive a personalized link to your Web Summary

The process of entering and updating your information is simple and straightforward. Begin by clicking the "My Web Summary" button next to any search form. Enter your name and your current or previous employer. If ZoomInfo already has created a web summary about you, it is displayed. You can add other companies that you've worked for, or display a list of web summaries that share your name, and can select to have them added to your primary web profile if they're current or past jobs.

Next, create a user name and password, and log in to edit your information. The edit screen looks just like your web summary, with the addition of links to edit or remove the various types of information displayed on your profile. To edit information, click the "needs to be updated" link for any part of your profile, and update the form with current information.

You can add a number of things to your web summary page, including:

  • Business phone number
  • Business email address
  • Board membership or affiliations
  • Additional work history information
  • Degrees and certifications
  • Languages and skills
  • Your biography

Bear in mind as you edit your web summary that this information will be public for anyone to see. Also, if you choose to remove information the deletion cannot be undone.

To complete the update you must enter a credit card number. ZoomInfo won't charge you anything; rather, it uses your credit card number to validate your identity and ensure the security of your Web Summary. The company says this is a one-time encrypted transaction for identity confirmation and your credit card number is not stored or reused in any way.

An additional benefit you get from registering is a unique URL that points directly to your web summary, that you can add to your web page, email signature or anywhere else where you want to give people a link to your details.

ZoomInfo publishes some interesting statistics about its service. For example, nearly two million of the 25 million people profiled are board members. Nearly half a million are consultants, 30,000 are store managers, 1,727 are mimes (!), and there are even web summaries of five award winning novelists.

ZoomInfo says that it plans to expand the scope of its service by adding many more profiles of celebrities sometime this quarter. Later in the year, it also plans to launch a search site for company information, showcasing a database it has built on more than 4.5 million businesses.


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