The rush to people search: Viadeo, ZoomInfo, Yahoo China, Spock…and PeekYou

For years, technology to search for people has been neglected, compared to most parts of the Web. Until now, that is.

A wave of new entrants are making it much easier to find out everything about a person, from their job, to their personalities, their age and even where they live. Forget the privacy implications, the race is on.

LinkedIn, a social network for professionals, had the field to itself a few years ago. Sites like Friendster let you search for friends, but it wasn’t ordered for full-on people search.

Only over the past year or so has there been a frantic rush to offer more sophisticated people search. Facebook, for example, has emerged into a networking tool, and increasingly a place where people search for each other. Here’s the latest string of developments:

ZoomInfo, one of the largest contacts site that lets you search a database of people and company profiles, will announce next Wednesday it will open to let developers build create applications on its platform. ZoomInfo is one of the more mature people search sites, but for while had remained relatively closed. The public API can be found here, http://developer.zoominfo.com (this will work next week) with more documentation. ZoomInfo has already worked with Amazon A9, Compete and Xing on this. For example, take a look at Compete’s profile on CNET, and you’ll see that it carries a widget on the right with more information provided by ZoomInfo.

– ZoomInfo now lets you look up full profiles at its site, and through widgets via its API; it merely limits the number of searches you can do on people. You have to pay to search high numbers of people, and to search by certain sub-category of occupation, for example. Related: ZoomInfo and a business networking site, Xing, announced a partnership to integrate their services in June, and there’s news next week on that front too. Xing adds the networking features that ZoomInfo hadn’t had until now.

Viadeo, is a French-based company that lets you add a profile and then search for contacts according to industry they work in, or any other number of variables. It also lets you search for jobs. We registered, tried it out and found it functional. Each person tags themselves according to subjects they’re interested in, and people can get in touch with each other. The company is similar to LinkedIn. It just raised €5 million in funding (see Mashable) from its existing backers AGF Private Equity and Ventech. It has more than 1.3 million members. It now operates in several European countries, and is expanding into Chinese via a partnership with Tianji, a Chinese social network. (screenshot at bottom)

– Yahoo China has just released a new version of its search, Yahoo.cn, that includes a people search, though it’s focused on celebrities. Yahoo uses information extraction technology and semantic analysis to create a Flash-based map of relationships, along with explanations of why they are related to and the sources of the information. China Web 2.0 provides an example of Jack Ma. Another Chinese company, Koowo, reportedly got $5.5 million for among other things, a similar mapping of Chinese stars. However, the downside is that these offerings often appear to be inaccurate. Finally, there’s Ucloo, the Chinese people search, that last we heard was looking to raise a round of capital.

Spock, the Silicon Valley start-up focused on people search, got off to a good start mid last month, when it hit the list of fastest growing sites, according to Alexa, even if it had some well-reported snafus (Spock lets users tag other people in profiles with words to describe them, and some people have complained about being tagged with insulting words). It joins Wink, another Silicon Valley company focused on people search.

–And this just in: There’s a new company called PeekYou. However, it looks considerably more lightweight, compared to Spock and others, perhaps because it has just launched, with less preparation than the others (Techcrunch has more).

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