In 2007, when vertical search was hotter than Twitter, people search was the cherry to pick. Indeed, many tried. Spock Spokeo, Wink, Peekyou, Pipl.com and in some ways, Israel’s own Delver, to name a few. Now the people search vertical is heating up again with the recent launch of two products: MyHeritage genealogy search and Mylife.com.
People Search primer
I would be talking out experience when I say that People Search is a very tough problem to solve. You need a comprehensive Index to incorporate as many records as possible including white pages, public records, ‘about us’ pages, social networking profiles and much more. We’re talking about A LOT of data. In addition, you would need advanced semantic technology, to aggregate the right information for the right people. For example, there’s more than 30,000 “John Smith”s out there, so you start getting the complexity. This might explain why you haven’t seen a people search engine come out of Google, Yahoo or Microsoft yet.
The approaches taken by MyHeriatge and MyLife are not so different from one another. MyHeritage is taking the geneology angle, aggregating information from user generated geneaology trees and 1,526 databases. MyHeritage genealogy search engine include data from: Arizona birth and death certificates, Facebook, Digg, Spock – People search engine, US Social Security Death Index from 1937-2007, Michigan Census, German Immigrants Database, Palatines to America, BMD Registers UK, European Patent Office, More specialized genealogy gems such as: Prague Police HQ Conscriptions (1850-1914) and Consolidated Index of Sephardic Surnames.
But despite its potentially deep database, I didn’t get to see the results. First I was asked to register. Then, I was asked to download a “specialized component” that would make my search faster. Thanks, but no thanks. It’s worth mentioning that MyHeritage has enough venture capital funding to weather the storm. It raised $15 million from Index Ventures and Accel back in September.
MyLife.com is the result of last year’s merger between Reunion.com and Wink – the social network agreggator. The site tries to take advantage of the information people include in their social network profiles, reaching 750 million profiles already (if you think about it, MySpace alone has 300 million profiles or so). Similar to MyHeritage, I had to register to access the results, but in this case registration failed – “Sorry, we cannot process your registration at this time“. PaidContent reports that MyLife also charges for the more detailed results and has already reached a million paying customers, according to CEO Jeffrey Tinsley. He also added that the combined Reunion.com and Wink brought a total of $52 million in revenue in 2008, a 92% increase from 2007. Tinsley predicts 2009 to increase revenues to $100 million. The revenue is coming from ad sales and user subscriptions, mostly women over 25.
Not to confuse revenue with profit, Mylife.com spends $35-$45 million in advertising per year (paid search ads, display ads and text disribution). But according to Tinsley it may very well be worth it – he claims that the site is adding 2.5 million new registered users a month. I tried to verify this number, and found a post on MyLife.com’s blog (in cache mode) saying that 1 million users join a month (as of Jan 20th 2009).
Looking at the data in Compete, he must be referring to Reunion.com:
What about the other players?
The contenders I mentioned earlier in this post are mostly gone. Spock.com ditched its user-generated people search in favor of a partnership with Microsoft Live, and a hell of a lot of ads on the page. Delver, not exactly a people search engine, is out of money and about to shut down or sell as I write these lines. Spokeo, like Israel’s Zoominfo, aggregates data from the web which is mostly wrong or obsolete by the time it is published (see example). PeekYou has 180 million profiles and is focused mostly on social networks. It has a very loud user interface and the profile page looks like a collection of logos, rather than an insightful report. Only Pipl.com might enjoy a different fate. It does a good job of aggregating Deep Web into groups: quick facts, professional bio, images, publications, web links, blog posts, documents and even email addresses.
With more positive blogosphere feedback and a little bit more traffic, it might actually stand a chance.
New potential entrants
Are we forgetting anyone? There are two or three dark horses that could be entering the space. You probably guessed it: Facebook – who control’s the world’s largest social graph by now, LinkedIn could dominate the business people search by connecting you with colleagues online. To maintain its $1 billion valuatuion, LinkedIn must show growth and it keep adding more and more search features, including partnerships that enhance search, such as the company pages provided by Capital IQ (see example). and Microsoft, who spent $100 million on PowerSet and is looking to gain traction through different search verticals including its acquisitions in Health (Medstory), Travel (Farecast) and