Michael Hussey, CEO, PeekYou

Mr. Hussey, could you tell us something about yourself and how you got to founding PeekYou? What is PeekYou and how is it different from other similar products on the market?

One morning in April 2006, I was laying half-awake in bed, when I thought of the idea to re-index the web around the people behind links, and building this database into a people search engine. I've been working on RateMy sites for over seven years now, first inventing RateMyFace, then RateMyProfessors and RateMyTeachers amongst others. I unsuccessfully tried to get funding for a website that was very similar to MySpace/Friendster - two years before those sites even launched - and I have been kicking myself ever since for not being the first one out the gate on social networking - so when the idea for PeekYou came to me, I vowed to be the first to develop this concept, and did not waste any time in kicking off development. We launched a public beta in "stealth mode" in July 2006 and have been improving the service ever since, adding new search results and improving the toolset while keeping an eye on the future of people search.

I realized that morning how the public nature of the online universe creates an unprecedented ability to organize and map our relationships, activities and interests. No one has organized our many online identities into a single location. By tying internet footprints back to their original creators, we can establish a people based search engine that organizes data in a way that Google never could.

PeekYou displays links to pages you in fact have control over while also encouraging you to control how those search results are displayed. This makes PeekYou into an ongoing community effort designed to continually refine the portraits of every online participant.

What does it take to maintain a people search site?

With PeekYou, we have really thought a lot about what a 'people search' engine should do differently than existing search engines. Collecting and spidering data across the web is not a massive challenge (hundreds of search engines have active web spiders), but putting that data into a usable format, matching variant links to specific people, and creating tools that foster quick and easy ways to locate individuals is where we have focused the bulk of our effort.

Which are your competitors? Do you consider your people search site better than theirs and why?

Our chief competitors are the big search engines (Google, Yahoo, Live.com, Ask.com), since that is where millions of people searches are being conducted every day. We believe we can convert users one-by-one to PeekYou, as people realize how much easier a PeekYou people search is across the board. There are other start-ups also trying to move into this vertical space (Spock.com, Wink.com), though we obviously feel our search tools are superior (where as Spock's narrowing tools are non-existent and Wink's are strange and dysfunctional), and our database strategy is stronger (i.e. we are doing a better job of matching links to specific individuals, instead of creating 5 profiles for the same person, which essentially recreates the problem of a people search on Google).

a. Example:
i. http://www.peekyou.com/neil_steinberg/
ii. http://www.spock.com/q/neil-steinberg
iii. http://wink.com/people/nm/neil%20steinberg/

Could you tell us more about the privacy concerns the sector deals with. What other issues are people search engines facing?

Operating a people search site, more than anything, requires trust. Even though we are collecting and organizing public information, we are dealing with very sensitive information and there are very real privacy concerns that come with this. I am lucky to have all the years of experience operating RateMyTeachers.com - where we have taken the "trust, but verify" approach to operating a website that allows anonymous people the ability to add and subtract information. We are very careful with the tags posted to our site - we are reviewing every contribution with human editors (just as with RateMyTeachers).

b. PeekYou succeeds not by being a central controlling force, distributing information as it sees fit; rather by taking the open road and placing control of the data in the hands of our volunteer community of contributors, we encourage honesty, accountability, and ever improving search results.

c. Conventional search engines never invite its users to debug poor search results - but this process is central to PeekYou's mission. Our number one commitment is to developing technology and processes to place control of the data and search results into your hands.

d. The information on PeekYou is already out there. By organizing that data into a better, more useful search engine, we in turn help the public become more aware of both the potential powers and liabilities associated with public knowledge. The question is, do you want to control how your information is discovered, or will you passively accept other parties taking that control away from you?

e. This is the type of story we never want written about PeekYou: http://www.wired.com/techbiz/startups/news/2007/08/spock_reputation