Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Grokking Spock: A Meta-Directory of Personal Profiles Powered by Technology and People

CNET interviews Jaideep Singh, the CEO and Co-Founder of the newly launched personal profile search engine Spock, and reveals insights into what is perhaps the hottest online content product launch this year. The Spock team has already assembled about 100 million tagged personal profiles of both living and historical people, including high profile people from the past like Diana, Princess of Wales and somewhat more mundane people from today like, well, me. Spock has carved out a very clever niche for itself, providing bone-simple search and navigation features like Google, personal profiling and networking as found in social media services such as LinkedIn and Facebook, content tagging, bookmarking and voting features like Digg and del.icio.us and content embedding features like PhotoBucket that enable a Spock profile to appear on Web pages beyond Spock.

There are all too many instances of features checklists like the above that could result in tragically bad content services but that's not the case with Spock. Through its system of content tagging and linking Spock winds up being a very powerful tool to research people who might have something to say on a given topic or to find out people who may have a connection to someone who you need to research. For example if you try a Spock search on "global warming" you get to no one's surprise a Spock profile of Al Gore as your first entry, but it's followed closely by Bill Clinton's profile (listed as "global warming advocate" [sic] as well as having a relationship link to Al Gore) and then by profiles of numerous global warming skeptics, including Rush Limbaugh. These are interesting and highly relevant search results that Google, as good as it may be from its own perspective, simply cannot duplicate.

Anyone can tag a person's profile returned on Spock with additional keywords that may be relevant to the person or add a vote for an existing tag. This is an exciting combination of content categorization and user feedback that provides the ability to create more relevance for a given person's relationship to a tagged topic without having to rely on evaluating external content sources. However Spock does quite a bit of external content evaluation as well, using patented algorithms to determine relevance, personal links and profile information. This information may be verified and edited by a person logging in to the Spock service and claiming their profile, much as in the Zoominfo online directory of professionals. In building a profile one can add links to existing personal profiles on social media services or links to relevant Web pages. Others may add links to your profile as well and vote on them, so there is a social media aspect to profile building also.

There's very little redundant information in Spock, it's mostly links to relevant information found elsewhere, as with other search engines. But the social media features, profile links, user tagging, bookmarking and personal profile validation features combine with straight search capabilities to create a truly unique experience with very useful information. Given that people have been "Googling" people for a long time you'd think that a major search engine like Google would have come up with Spock-like features to add value to personal searching, but Spock found that need and has filled it very nicely. While it may lack some of the strong business oriented capabilities of finding professionals via services such as LinkedIn, Jigsaw or Zoominfo the Spock method seems to try to be a Switzerland of sorts for social media profiles: have as many as you want wherever you want them and Spock will use them as useful input for building yourself an all-encompassing profile and content directory on their own service.

The mixture of both solid results and fun exploration is sure to make Spock a very popular and useful service for people in both personal and professional roles, a factor that is likely to encourage people to build and maintain a high profile via Spock's search services. Spock helps to fill in the area between purely automated searches that fail to incorporate personal wisdom on both people an topics and does so in novel ways that challenge both conventional search engines and more traditional directory services to consider how people can be exposed most effectively to audiences searching for both information about people and both personal and professional relationships with people. It's still early days for Spock, of course - performance is so-so at times and there are still some bugs to be found in basic features such as profile claiming - but as a tool to probe into people within the framework of key topics expect Spock to become a trend-setter for some time to come.
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