30 July 2007

The (Web) Search for Spock

An InformationWeek article describes Spock.com (currently in beta testing), which allows users to search for profiles compiled out of public information, vote on how accurate the information is, and manage the accuracy of their own profiles. The site is also running a contest (the 'Spock Challenge') to find solutions to one of its major problems, teaching a search algorithm how to correctly tag new information when people share the same name.

The site is currently by invite only, so while I'm waiting for mine, let me just say this: the creators claim that they named the site Spock for its consumer recognizability factor, and that it stands for Single Point of Contact and Knowledge. To which I say: Yeah, right. As a long-time Star Trek enthusiast, I'm comfortable admitting that I've had a crush on Mr. Spock since high school, and I find it hard to believe that the 'patron saint of computer science' had nothing to do with the naming of the company.

Will report back on Spock's search capabilities soon. In the meantime, here's my favorite sentence in the IW article:

"In the absence of privacy, control is the next best thing, and Spock stands out for giving its users a least a little say over how they and others get represented online."
Italics added -- I'm thinking the company could get this printed on a T-shirt, with an image of Spock looking severe.


Mr. Helmet said...

Hi. This is M. We met and talked last Friday at L&M's place.

Just some rambling:

I am terrified of sites like these. Have you played with others? There are a bunch that search across the various social networking sites... and others which for free give you age and phone numbers (and if you pay can give you address and who knows what else)!

Did you talked to K about what he does at work (not grad school, but the company he started working for)? If he described it in any detail and how well what they are doing works, it makes things a little scary. Just by tying together one users search terms they make new connections. So, if you search for yourself, and then you search for me... somewhere down the road those will be connected (it is unclear how much of this is currently done, but they certainly have the ability).

I just realized that because I am logged into gmail, blogger knows 'who I am', so they have the data to make the connection between us since I am looking at your blog. I would really want to find out if they actually attempt to make use of these connections somehow.

I probably sound like a paranoid nut! I can not figure out why I am overly paranoid about this. I do want to be in control, but I think it is impossible. The quote you posted: "In the absence of privacy, control is the next best thing"... is interesting quote, but I prefer this one... althought I am not quite over it myself.

Do you already attempt to manage your personal information online? How careful are you? Do you use the same emails and same user names across different sites?

Please keep us update on how spock works... I am really interested in comparing it to the other tools.

LP said...

Mr. Helmet,

In 1997 Momus came out with a song called ‘The Age of Information’ making similar points about the death of privacy. My favorite verse:

Somebody is prying through your files, probably'
Somebody's hand is in your tin of Netscape magic cookies.
But relax: if you're an interesting person,
Morally good in your acts,
You have nothing to fear from facts

Google is particularly scary, because they have by far the best search algorithm out there, and they’ve been secretly trying out facial recognition technology. I think this is quite creepy. For myself, I am not particularly paranoid about my info. I use some social networking sites, but they are all the kind where only users you select can see your contact info, etc. So I guess much depends on how secure these sites are. I periodically correct my profile in ZoomInfo, Spoke, and a few others, because some of my info is out there in press releases, etc.