Spock: Web 2.0 Search Engine

Spock, a new search engine geared for searches about people, launches soon. Are you in the engine?
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Does the Web need another search engine?

Jaideep Singh and Jay Bhatti, the co-founders of Spock, are betting that it does -- specifically, one for people search.

With a rumored $7 million in venture capital from Clearstone Venture Partners and Opus Capital Ventures, Spock came out of stealth mode in April at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, and is currently conducting an invitation-only beta with over 25 thousand users. Talking about how Spock will work and might be used, Bhatti says flatly, "Our goal is to index everyone everywhere."

Spock originated with the founders' frustration in managing their connections. With over a thousand people in his address book, Bhatti says, "Every time I started looking for someone, it was impossible to find them if I didn't know their name exactly. And if I wanted to know, say, everyone who had got their MBA at Stanford and currently lives in Seattle, I could never do that with my Outlook address book or any other application that was out there." The challenge, he explains, is to create an application that can keep track of all the information in people's address books while making that information easily accessible.

Spock, he says, "almost is like a del.icio.us for people," in that it will allow users access to connections from any web-connected computer. The difference, Bhatti says "is the scale of what we're trying to do. It's not a web site. It's a search engine."

Bhatti adds that, contrary to appearances, the name is not an allusion to the famous Star Trek character. Rather, he says the name was chosen because it was easy to remember, say, and spell. Another consideration is the company's hope that "to spock" will soon became a verb like "to google."

How Spock Beams You Up

Like any search engine, Spock at its most basic is about entering search terms and reading the results. However, one of the things that makes Spock different is that you can also search by meta-tags that are created and voted on by registered users, as on Digg. This feature means that you can look up not only specific people, such as Linus Torvalds, but also specific people in certain circumstances, such as "Dick Cheney shooting scandal" or categories of people, such as "booksellers San Francisco." All relevant information, ranging from web page links through images and videos to the tags associated with the person, is summarized in the results. Users can then click on the results to find out more information about the person for whom they searched, or on the tags assigned to the person to find other people in the same category.

Currently, the results given by the beta are reasonable, but have noticeable gaps in almost any topic you can think of. However, Bhatti insists that the service will improve as it continues. He says that Spock already includes at least 100 million names, and is growing steadily. "We're going to be adding two million unique people every day because we're crawling the web," he says. In addition, as people register for Spock, they can speed the process by uploading their address books from their mail readers or their connections on social networking sites. As people add and vote on tags, the site will be enriched even further.

Besides curiosity and managing personal contacts, Bhatti sees many different uses for Spock. The site could be used as a portal for breaking news stories, quickly providing information from both official media and blog sources. Headhunters could use it to find job applicants. Individuals might use it for dating, or for travel or consumer information. Researchers could use Spock to find all related information about a search subject. Since Spock will index dead people as readily as live ones, it could also be used for genealogy research if it grows as planned.

"Spock is going to become the central point for searching for people," Bhatti says simply. "Everyone will go to us and nowhere else."

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