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Summary:

Wink, a Mountain View, Calif., people search site is merging with Reunion, a Santa Monica, Calif., social networking site.

Wink, a Mountain View, Calif., people search site is merging with Reunion, a Santa Monica, Calif., social networking site. Combining Wink’s 700 million individual profiles and web-crawling capabilities and Reunion’s membership of about 50 million, the new company thinks it has a head start in the social search market. But any firm aiming to unseat search kings like Google will have a tough time persuading people to switch to a site geared specifically toward social searching. This was one of the reasons we were highly skeptical of the people-based search trend back in 2005, when Wink announced its offering.

The new site, launching some time in February, will pull personal information from sites like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, as well as other public records online, but will retain Reunion’s social networking and friend-finding features. Neither company gave details about how much searches will cost users; right now  Reunion uses a freemium model.

Web users don’t always grasp the privacy settings on the sites they populate, and the argument that the data scattered across the web is publicly available anyway won’t entirely remove the creepy factor of finding so much personal information in one place. But branding the site as a social networking nexus could ease some of the concerns and draw in users — as long as the results are at least as accurate as those provided free by Google.

In terms of raw user numbers, Reunion already has an edge on other players in the social search space. The company says it has about 12 million unique monthly visitors. Compete.com put that number at 9.5 million in September, versus some 889,000 on Spock.com, 283,000 on Wink.com, 261,000 on PeekYou.com and 25,000 on newcomer 123People.com. Reunion is adding 1.6 million new members each month, according to CEO Jeff Tinsley. He notes that the site is most popular with users over the age of 25.

Reunion, which is profitable, raised a $25 million Series A round from Oak Investment Partners in April 2007. Wink raised $6 million from Greylock Partners, Founders Fund and Cambrian Ventures, according to CEO Michael Tanne. The new company says it will double its staff in Mountain View (to about 24) and boost its Santa Monica staff, currently about 120, by 25 to 30 percent.

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