People search is the latest vertical that entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists, have gotten behind recently. By some accounts, people-specific searches make up 30 percent of searches on general search engines like Google and Yahoo. While companies like WhitePages.com and ZoomInfo have been in the market for a few years, a flood of new entries have popped up, including Spock.com, which launched in public beta today.
Spock, whose name is an acronym for "single point of contact (by) keyword," is similar to start-up Wink, in that both sites focus on crawling social networks like Facebook, Bebo, and LinkedIn, and aggregating the content they find around a person. Both are also planning to cast a much wider net, with aspirations to index every person on the planet.
According to the Wink Blog, it has indexed 200 million profiles, and had 150,000 visitors in June. Spock, which has been in private beta with 60,000 users for several months, has 100 million people indexed so far, and will eventually index billions of people, according to Jay Bhatti, VP of product, who co-founded Spock last year with CEO Jaideep Singh.
"Spock is a search engine that organizes information around people," Bhatti said. "We're crawling the Web to find documents, and then organizing and ranking that information around an entity."
So for instance, a search for "David Stern" will produce results for the NBA commissioner, TV writer, theater professor, theologian, venture capitalist, and others who share that name. Ideally, the information about each person will be assigned to the correct entity.
Spock accomplishes this task through a combination of algorithmic tagging, assigned based on the content that is crawled, and human-edited tagging, which is done by individuals on their own data, or on data of other people they are interested in. In the private beta, the two main groups using Spock were recruiters and employers looking for data on current or potential employees, and celebrity-watchers looking for data on their favorite pop culture icons.
Besides searching for a single name, Spock allows users to search by keyword, which will return all the people that have been tagged with that word. For example, a search for search engine turns up a who's who list from the search industry, where the same search on Google produces links to search engines themselves, or news about search engines
These keyword-based searches are where Spock expects to monetize the site with ads, serving both contextually-indexed ads and intent-based ads to searchers. For instance, Bhatti explains that ads targeting young men could be served on searches related to NBA basketball, while travel ads could be served to searchers who search for geographic-based groups that are outside their own area.
Another way Spock hopes to make money is through licensing deals that will make Spock's people search on other general search engines, portals, and niche applications. Bhatti said that several such business development deals are in the works, but none are ready to announce yet.
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