Recently my wife's sister got curious about what had happened to her first husband after they split. That marriage had ended badly and they hadn't been in contact for nearly thirty years. She tried searching for her ex-husband's name on Google and Yahoo but didn't get any hits. Knowing I do research online in my work as a professional writer, she asked if I could find out anything.
I write for business and technical publications, so I use a number of high-priced databases for in-depth research. But I suggested she try a simpler alternative - a solution I use myself when I want to find someone quickly and easily. I recommended she try one of the people search database services. Even the better ones cost so little, they're practically free. Most offer a trial period. I gave her the name of one to try.
She was dubious. She's not very comfortable using her computer for much more than email. Her stab at the search engines had already left her flustered. Now she was going to have to "sign up for something and learn something completely new... oh my goodness," was the way she put it.
Yet, later the same day I suggested it, she emailed back excitedly. In just minutes, she'd found out all kinds of information about her ex. It turned out that he'd done something of a turnaround after they'd broken up. Their divorce resulted from fights over his serious drinking problem. After they broke up, though, he'd eventually gone back to med school, gotten his MD and become an orthopedic surgeon. He'd even been instrumental in developing some sort of device used by other surgeons in his field.
Unfortunately, the poor fellow had passed, but at least my sister-in-law found comfort in knowing that things had worked out for him after all. She remarked that even though their relationship ended in the worst imaginable way, it had started from a good point. She said she hadnt really wanted to contact him. She just wanted to know what had happened to him.
Sometimes all we want is just to satisfy our curiosity about what happened to someone we've lost track of. Most of us have an old friend or acquaintance we still wonder about.
A Better Way to Find People
I suspect that's what makes people searching so hot. As many as half a million times a month, someone searches on Google alone, looking for a way to find a lost person. Whether it's someone from the past with whom we've lost touch, or someone we met last weekend and yearn to see again, were always searching for others.
Unfortunately, most general searches fail. Just like Googling failed for my sister-in-law. The information is out there, somewhere. But being forced to sift through so many unrelated results makes it nearly impossible.
That's why I recommended she use a people search service - sometimes they're called Internet Detective services. They pull all the information spread across thousands of servers and combine it into people-specific search databases. Then when you drop in a name or an address or a phone number, whatever bit of information you have, you get instant gratification. Up pops the latest scoop about your person.
Thats totally unlike the cold mechanical response a Google or Yahoo gives:
Results 1 - 10 of about 55,100,000 for joe smith. (0.06 seconds)
You can almost hear the search engine yawn.
By the way - most searchers don't know this - search engine results don't actually extend beyond about a thousand entries. Even when the search engine results page says they found millions and millions of hits, they don't actually bother to dig it up and give you access to all of it. They're really just estimating from their own database tables. Even they know it's a waste of time.
Yawn, yawn, yawn
On the other hand, it's exciting when you do a person search on a dedicated database. You find what you're looking for in seconds. Plus, you not only get current information, often you get historical data too. You find not only where the person is now but also where they lived or worked before that and before that and before that.
You can sort of see your old friend's life laid bare. (Now what in heaven's name was George doing in Poughkeepsie, New York, in winter. He always hated the cold)
Sometime you find a person's life didn't turn out the way you'd have thought. That's when the Criminal Check part of the service can help you find out what prison they ended up in!
When You Choose a Personal Search Service, Here's What to Look For
If you decide to try out a personal search database, here are the things I've found important to consider during a review
1. Free versus Paid
I've been disappointed by the free services. Their main concern seems to be to try and get you to click on some of the pay-per-click ads they're displaying - so they can make a little money.
You want a service that responds quickly. Make sure you try it out. A fun test is to do a search on yourself. You get to check speed and accuracy!
If a service compiles their own database, they must be fairly successful. It's costly to build and maintain. Such well-funded providers are much more likely to stay around. From a usability standpoint, it's better too. You get a single interface that you can quickly learn.
And I've never seen a free service that has its own database. Most of the free services I've checked out are really just link farms - they just point you at some public or government database.
4. Training and Support
Be sure you can easily learn to use any service you choose. Actually, you'll find the better services are intuitive - how to search will make sense as soon as you look at it. But better services will also provide extra, in-depth searching. If you ever need the extra, it might require you dig into it a bit before you can fully use it. Just make sure your service has easy, accessible ways to learn, like tutorials.
And don't ignore support. Sooner or later you'll have questions or there will be something you need help to get resolved. It's best if they offer free, live support.
Join the millions using the web to track down old friends and new friends. But make it easier on yourself by using a People Search service rather than a general search engine. Have fun finding out exactly what did become of your old friend (or even your old, not-so-friendly ex)
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