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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Look Harder, PeekYou

Oh, the perils of releasing a "beta" product before it's ready for prime time.

Remember Terence Pua and Project Napa? Me neither. But seriously, the idea was promising at least. It would be a "biography" protocol that would grow in accuracy over time, to enable people search. If the information became reliable enough, maybe it could be syndicated, so that anytime a person was mentioned in - say - a news article, you could drill down and get the full dossier on the individual mentioned. The project didn't get far.

Recall though that Project Napa was floated way back in 2000 - even before Wikipedia was founded (2001)! Wikipedia not only seems to make the "growing bio" concept somewhat obsolete (at least from a process standpoint -- Wikipedia makes no claim of course to building dossiers on a billion unremarkable nobodies), it also points to some of the shortcomings of the model of "non-authoritative" user-built databases.

PeekYou is the latest in a line of people search tools clamoring for attention. (ZoomInfo is another you may have heard of.) It was started by the founder of some of those "Rate My"... sites -- RateMyTeacher, RateMyProfessor, etc.

Is PeekYou the next Wikipedia? MySpace meets something-I-haven't-thought-of? Or is it another Project Napa?

Today, so many of these startups are coming out and overlapping -- with MySpace and Facebook profiles, genealogy sites that seem to want to stretch their mandate ever further, and personal info shareable with all, etc. -- it becomes very easy to throw up your hands and say: why, exactly, should I believe this particular platform will ever create a database that will be reliable and comprehensive enough to bother with? And secondly -- why should I help build it?

Done right, these sites could be extremely useful, I suspect. Current versions in the marketplace are often no better than high-volume scrapers (I know my company info is on ZoomInfo, lifted from my website) monetizing with the usual AdSense and banner routine.

The tension between a single authoritative piece of information and the wisdom (or at least comprehensiveness) of crowds continues. Meanwhile, the beta of PeekYou.com sucks. I looked up a few friends, some of whom aren't exactly tough to find info on. Jill Whalen, for example. There are four other Jill Whalens listed, but not her. Unless our Jill's been hidin' out in Texas!

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