My scholarly colleague John Bartley had raised several ethical concerns associated with the risk of making information on people available at a single portal on a publicly accessible medium. While it’s true that any service or tool that makes information pertaining to people available online has a potential of getting exploited, there are several positive outcomes of a people search tool that can outweigh the negatives.
The evolving Web
Firstly, the Web as an architecture has been content centric. The basis fabric of the Internet is bound together by hyperlinks that “web” the documents together. But with the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies, we are witnessing the emergence of a more collaborative medium (an exceptional YouTube video).
The Internet is no longer about linked documents or a communication medium, it’s adding a new dimension to human existence, one that alleviates the physical limits on human interaction. So far, the Net has been about humans interpreting documents and content meshed together. The next generation of the Web, the semantic Web, is about making the different content interpreted via machines.
So, where does people search fit in all this? I think it helps to solve one of the major issues of deciphering the virtual entities, i.e. the people who power the Web. While I have no information on exactly what criteria the crawlers of people search engines trawl for, the end result is that it makes it easier to associate content with people and thus link people (whose collective opinion adds to the relevancy of content on the Web).
Adding the ‘people’ element to content
The results from such an engine could help index the blogs and forum entries made by people, network more closely with people, and find a way to organize the mesh of data on an individual basis. This could have astounding benefits in the field of medical science (connect to a doctor from just one reply to a forum) and other critical application sciences.
Again, the only rationale for my views is that the powerhouse of the Web, i.e. search engines, have utilized crawlers to trawl content on the Internet. Adding a ‘people’ dimension to it is an extension to the crawler’s functionality. Just like search engines can be used for nefarious and noble purposes alike, with the positives far outweighing the negatives, the same applies to people search as well.