India Times: Top 5 Web 2.0 launches

Another big debutant at the Web 2.0 Expo, Spock is about finding people. is an editable people directory. Each person on Spock is tagged, has a biography. Spock promises to be a step forward in the field of people search. Along the same lines as Wink, Spock searches through the web and returns any information it can find on the person entered. The software crawls about 200 sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia and IMDB.

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Demogirl on Spock

Demogirl did a fanstastic screencast of us.

Click here to get a sneak Preview of Spock!

To all of our patient beta users who are on the wait-list, we are slowly beginning to open up the site and you should receive your invitation in the next few weeks 🙂

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O’Reilly Excited About Spock

Oreilly_radar Why I’m so excited about Spock
by Tim O’Reilly | April 14, 2007 | PDF

Why I’m so excited about Spock

Note: Spock is among the companies launching at the Web 2.0 Expo on Monday.

Michael Arrington wrote the other day about spock, the new people search engine, but I have to say that I don’t think he did it justice. Spock is really cool, and performs a unique function that is well outside the range of capabilities of current search engines. What’s more, it’s got a fabulous interface for harvesting user contribution to improve its results.

You can search for a specific person — but you can do that on Google. More importantly, you can search for a class of person, say politicians, or people associated with a topic — say Ruby on Rails. The spock robot automatically creates tags for any person it finds (and it gathers information on people from Wikipedia, social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook), but it also lets users add tags of their own, and vote existing tags up or down to strengthen the associations between people and topics. Users can also identify relationships between people (friend, co-worker, etc.), upload pictures, and provide other types of information. This is definitely a site that will get better as more people use it — one of my key tests for Web 2.0. It also illustrates the heart of a new development paradigm: using programs to populate a database, and people to improve it.

Let’s start with a search for a specific person — say, Eric Schmidt.

search for Eric Schmidt on spock

You’ll notice that there are 45 Eric Schmidts in total, and the number will grow as spock expands its reach. However, I’m pretty sure that most people would indeed expect the CEO of Google to be the top ranked result for “Eric Schmidt.” He’s top ranked on Google, too, but if you look at the Google search results page, you’ll see an important difference:

search for Eric Schmidt on google

Here, because Eric’s an important guy, he dominates the search results. We don’t find an entry about a second Eric Schmidt, the professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Utah, until the middle of the second page of search results, and I didn’t click through enough pages to find a third Eric Schmidt.

Disambiguating people, and then collapsing multiple sources of information into a single entry, or entity resolution, is part of the secret sauce of a people search engine. (More on that in a followup post, since Spock wants your help in making this aspect of their software even better.) Mechanisms for ranking people are also going to be critical.

Now obviously, we can find out more about Eric with a Google search, but Spock collects a very nice top-level summary in one place, but most importantly, helps to find the collection of people named Eric Schmidt who are not this particularly high profile person.

There’s a reasonable amount of detail, including a picture, in the search results list, but clicking on Eric’s name shows even more detail on the information Spock has collected about him and also gives a chance for you, the user, to improve the information that’s already there:

Eric Schmidt's detail page on spock

This is a pretty good summary of Eric’s vital statistics, including a wikipedia widget, a picture, tags describing his career, links to web sites associated with him, “related people,” and so on.

But I notice a couple of things that are missing. The list of known web sites associated with Eric 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. In the screen shot below, you can catch me in the act of tagging Eric with Sun Microsystems. The new web links have already been added.

Eric Schmidt's entry after I've updated it

Why, might you ask, will people go to the trouble of updating people’s pages on spock? First off, individuals can claim their own page, and clearly have an interest in it. (It will be interesting to see how Spock balances people’s desire to manage their own image with the public data the search engine finds. 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. There are also issues with the semantics of related people. I was able to add Larry and Sergey as co-workers, but is that really the right way to describe their relationship? As with tags, there’s a huge amount of room for nuance, disagreement, and outright error. This private beta of spock exposes the tips of many icebergs, some of which have the power to sink one feature or another.)

Back to the question of motivation for user contribution: because of Spock’s tagging features, the engine will become a really useful tool for finding people at companies, in particular locations, or with common interests. Here, for example, is what I find if I click on the tag “Google” that is listed under Eric’s name:

people associated with the google tag on spock

Spock already has 1425 people associated with Google in one way or another — and I’ll bet a lot of them aren’t in LinkedIn or other social networks that require people to build out their own network. (Spock’s relevance ranking clearly has room for improvement, though. John Battelle is an important guy with key insights into Google, but I wouldn’t put him ahead of Larry Page!)

What really gets me excited is that I’m told that Spock plans to support private tags, so you can manage your own people information spaces. This will also have a powerful network effect, in that people will be motivated to upload their address books and other lists. How much more useful to me would be a Spock-ified list of O’Reilly authors than the simple database we now keep them in, or a list of our conference speakers? In a lot of ways, my business is based on the ability to find the right person, the person who knows the most about a given topic and can write about it, or present about it at a conference, or point to other interesting people. It’s also based on keeping track of people. When we’re planning the invitation list for an event, we’re often poring over a spreadsheet — and asking ourselves, who was that again? Spock pulls together a relevant summary for each person, making it a great outboard memory connecting names, faces, topics and companies.

What’s more, Spock is still in its infancy. It has only a fraction of the people it will have once it gets out of private beta, and only a fraction of the features. This is definitely a product and a company to watch.

(It’s also a lot of fun, but that’s a subject for another post, once the product is live and it won’t just be a tease to talk about all the cool things you can do with it!)

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Wired Article Mentions Spock

Wired Tim O’Reilly: Web 2.0 Is About Controlling Data
by Dylan Tweney | April 13, 2007 | PDF

It’s not too late to get on the “web 2.0” bandwagon, says publishing magnate Tim O’Reilly, who coined the term. And if you’re wondering what it takes to build a web 2.0 startup, O’Reilly has just the conference for you — the Web 2.0 Expo.

O’Reilly Media and CMP are co-hosting the conference, which runs April 15 to 18 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Organizers expect between 7,000 and 10,000 people to check out the conference’s 120 exhibitors and seven educational tracks, covering topics from the elementary (web 2.0 fundamentals) to the complex and critical (web operations). O’Reilly describes it as a “how-to conference for web 2.0 developers.”

O’Reilly has been on many bloggers’ lips during the past two weeks. The buzz at his recently-concluded ETech conference was about Kathy Sierra’s abrupt cancellation of her speaking appearance there. Sierra cited anonymous death threats and harassment on her own blog’s Comments section, as well as on two blogs created by Cluetrain author Chris Locke. In the ensuing debate, O’Reilly brokered a meeting between Sierra and Locke, and made a call for a “bloggers’ code of conduct.” He even proposed badges that bloggers could put on their sites to indicate whether they moderated comments heavily or not at all.

We spoke with O’Reilly this week to find out what’s in store at the show, the current state of the much-hyped “web 2.0” terminology and his current thoughts on civility in the blogosphere.

Wired News: Can you tell us what’s exciting about web 2.0 and what we can expect from the conference?

Tim O’Reilly: One of the big changes at the heart of web 2.0 is the shift from the creation of software artifacts, which is what the PC revolution was about, to the creation of software services. These are services that ultimately, if they are successful, will require competencies of operation, of scale, and the like.

I remember talking to people about this three or four years ago, and they (wanted to know) how many people need to scale services to the size of Google? Well, there are now hundreds of services as big as Google was back then.

Increasingly, with services like Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) and EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud), we’re starting to see the emergence of operations as a platform, as well as an internal competency. Amazon’s been a real pioneer there.

WN: Are there any trends among the companies exhibiting at Web 2.0 Expo, the kinds of services and technologies being shown?

O’Reilly: Well, obviously this is a market with a lot of froth in it already. I have to say there are a lot of me-too products and companies. Yet another social network, of the 15th flavor — that’s common in every new technology revolution. There are imitators who have marginal improvements.

One of the companies that’s going live on Monday is Spock, which is a people-search engine. It’s really, really impressive. It’s thinking about whether there are other classes of data to which search hasn’t really been applied.

That goes back to a major theme of web 2.0 that people haven’t yet tweaked to. It’s really about data and who owns and controls, or gives the best access to, a class of data. Amazon is now the definitive source for data about whole sets of products — fungible consumer products. EBay is the authoritative source for the secondary market of those products. Google is the authority for information about facts, but they’re relatively undifferentiated.

Why did Google, for example, recently decide to offer free 411 service? I haven’t talked to people at Google, but it’s pretty clear to me why. It’s because of speech recognition. It has nothing to do with 411 service, it has to do with getting a database of voices, so they don’t have to license speech technology from Nuance or someone else. They want their own data stream.

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TechCrunch Exclusive Screenshots: Spock’s New People Engine

Techcrunch Exclusive Screenshots: Spock’s New People Engine
by Michael Arrington | April 11, 2007 | PDF of Article

It’s not often we hear about a startup’s venture financing before we see the product, but that is the case with yet-to-launch Spock, located in Silicon Valley. Rumors about their $7 million Series A round of financing from Clearstone Venture Partners and Opus Capital Ventures circulated last December, months before the beta service was planned to launch.

I met with founders Jaideep Singh (CEO) and Jay Bhatti (VP Product) last week to test the service, which they plan to beta launch next week.

People search is a space that went from nowhere to crowded, fast. Wink changed direction and launched a people search product last November. Also in this space is Streakr (yet to launch), ProfileLinkerLinkedInZoomInfo and Upscoop.

Spock’s People Search Engine

Unlike the others (for the most part), Spock goes way beyond searching just social networks for people information. They are positioning themselves specifically against Google for web search and Amazon for product search, saying the third important type of search is information about people, and that 30% of Internet searches are people-related. Wink is Spock’s closest competitor among all of the ones listed above.

In my testing, Spock did a great job of finding information about different kinds of people – bloggers, celebrities, and even lesser known individuals with some web presence. See last screenshot below for an example search results page.

People Profiles and Metadata

But part of where Spock really shines is what they do after the search is completed. They are slowly indexing the entire web , which is no small feat, but focusing on important hubs of people information like blogs, wikipedia, photo sites and, of course, social networks. Each person discovered by their search engine is run through a process of de-duping (for people with identical or similar names) and given a permanent profile page (see screenshot of former President Bill Clinton’s profile to right –click for larger view). Spock auto-creates tags for individuals based on the information they find. Prominent tags for Bill Clinton, for example, include “former U.S. President, “Great Leader,” “Womanizer,” “Left Handed,” “Democrat,” and “Saxophonist,” among others. Spock also auto detects other relevant meta data about the individual – age, location and sex.

Users can add new tags and vote on whether existing tags are relevant or correct. Also, individuals can claim their own profile (Spock runs your email through the social networks to see if it is attached to the right profile). Once claimed, that user has additional voting weight with his or her own tags and description. It will be interesting to see prominent individuals fighting the masses as they try to dominate their own identity, and lawsuits will inevitably surface as well.

People Relationships

Spock also finds relationships between people based on an analysis of information obtained in their web index, and based on user added data later on. When looking at a person’s profile, there will be links to others that Spock thinks are related.

Matt Mashall got a very early look at the product last year. See his notes here to see how it has changed since then.

Screenshots (click for larger view):

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