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Spock gets pinch on finding people

Monday, 23 April 2007 — by

Be you the ardent journalist, the voracious researcher or the sweating voyeur, Spock really does apply some very lateral thinking to a common, logical problem. And the problem? Finding stuff about someone in particular on the ‘Net.

Oh, you can just use Google for crap like that, surely? Well, yes. But if you’ve ever performed a search for someone’s name, say Eric Schmidt for example, a name that just happens to be the same name as someone else, someone more famous than t’other, then you have a problem.

This is where Spock comes in…

Right now, Spock is in invite-only testing mode, to and I’ve asked for an invite so I can have a play around.

In lieu of them letting the likes of me in to go and muck things up, Tim O’Reilly has done a pretty good job of explaining what Spock is and does. So my discussion is going to be centered around that.

At first squint, I see many things…

The very first thing that popped into my head when I began to read down through the article was the similarities to Clusty, which offers similar functionality to Spock, albeit for the web as a whole.

And having performed a search for my own name, you’ll see that Clusty isn’t exactly behind the door with regards to being a people finder. However, there’s little doubt that Spock has the edge.

The second thing that popped into my head was how something like Spock would benefit massively from the Semantic Web paradigm.

That said, maybe there’s a more social paradigm that not only pre-empts some of the stuff that the Semantic Web offers, but adds some additional value:

“[Spock] will get better as more people use it … It also illustrates the heart of a new development paradigm: using programs to populate a database, and people to improve it.”

It’s a solid idea, too.

We’re not just searching for stuff these days, we’re an active ingredient in the bigger mix. We add to those ingredients to help bake a better, more specific end product.

So if we assume that the end product is something that’s arrived at only by participation & cooperation (think of Wikipedia, for example,) then finding holes in the data isn’t the bad thing it might have been back in the day:

“I notice a couple of things that are missing. The list of known web sites associated with Eric [Schmidt] includes neither his personal home page nor the Google corporate information site, so I add links to both. I also see that he’s not tagged in association with Sun Microsystems, where he was formerly the CTO, or Novell, where he was the CEO. So I add these as tags.”

Indeed, this is a way of thinking that’s gathering momentum, and it’s something that I’ve discussed recently, too:

“Moving forward, I think a time will come when the the turn of phrase: ‘Going on the web’ will drift out of our vocabulary. In time, you’ll just decide to find something, and you’ll do so from almost anywhere from any number of devices.

Your questions will then be interpreted contextually, depending on where you are and what your question is. And finally, the data you uncover will become your data.

I say your data because the end result of your search maybe so highly focused to your specific needs – and with more data & information being disentangled from proprietary ownership – that your results become part of your own Lifestream or Workstream.

Discoverable from anywhere at any time. There for you to manipulate, adjust, widen, refine, reshape, subtract from or even just discard.

This is the social web maturing and the high five of the API (Application Programming Interface) being joined by the square-shouldered, firm hand shake of the Enterprise, their databases, blade servers and their becubicled staff scattered hither & yonder around this global village of ours.”

The third thing that popped into my head was the privacy issues that will no doubt abound once Spock comes on-line:

“Yes, we’ve revealed certain details about ourselves to web portals and other places on the web. And yes, we accept that someone could – with such a mind to do so – find out more about us, given enough time.

But what we didn’t envisage is a time when all of this information is aggregated into one place.

We might tell a friend which plant pot we keep the spare house keys under, or a colleague which username & password to use to access our computer, or even let a family member use your credit card once in a while. But what you don’t do is let all of these people have access to the whole lot!

This is all pure speculation on my part, but it does seem logical in certain respects. Might such a feature of search engines not come about at the behest of certain governments? As a direct request to subvert anonymity, masquerading as an aspect of national security, dressed up as a new search tool, perhaps?

The point is, is there a dividing line between personal, freely available information about you on the web, and invasive scrutiny, verging on a violation of privacy?”

Pure speculation, I promise you.

I had no knowledge of Spock at the time of writing my Internet Anonymity article, so it’s as much a surprise to me as it you that something like Spock should come about, or that I should discover it so soon after the aforementioned article of mine.

Googlebomb is dead! Long live the Spockbomb!

So we may have seen the last of the Googlebomb. But what happens if there’s something worse?

What happens if Spock becomes a very refined, sharp tool, deadly in the hands of the character assassin?

“It will also be very interesting to see how successfully they manage spamming of tags, websites associated with people, and other user-contributed data. They do allow users to vote information up or down, but that may or may not be enough. I’ll bet that entries on prominent people end up needing to be closed.”

Associating a competitor, or a person you just don’t like with a very negative tag could cause some degree of embarrassment, and that’s not to mention the prospect of loss of income and a huge dent in the faith of your partners, your customers as well as kith & kin.

As a tool, Spock has the potential for people to manage their personal brand, which is an ever-growing subject these days.

In fact, personal branding on the web is a way of sweeping away those inconvenient resources that may make reference to subjects you’d rather no one know about.

Clearly then, Spock could quite conceivably become a battle ground for all kinds of nonsense, including a new class of spam.

As a tool, Spock seems quite limited, but that belies the true depth that Spock appears to offer.

It’s a people finder, but not as we know it…

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[…] me, the most promising people finding player would be Spock, who I looked at recently, and found myself suitably pleased […]

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