There’s been a small foofooraw on some of the blogs recently about whether people-driven search (as exemplified by Mahalo) would come to be more important than the sort of automated spidering best done by Google. We’ve already pointed out the benefits of tapping your own network for more personalized human-powered searches, but for most things, I think machines still rule the roost. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the real problem with automated search is not that people can do better, but that we’re not carrying the automation far enough.
Enter Evolution, a new Web intelligence application from Paterva. Evolution does not tap any data sources that you cannot already get to. What it brings to the search party is the ability to quickly and deeply search across a variety of sources, many of which are not covered by more traditional meta-search engines, and to show the links between what it finds. Just by being a tiny bit smart about hooking up disconnected atoms of data, Evolution points the way towards much smarter searching (and in a way that I can’t imagine human-powered search ever matching).
For a simple example, start by entering a phone number of someone reasonably web-connected into Evolution’s web interface. For most of my professional contacts, this not only gets the expected white pages lookup, but also gives me web sites and email addresses that match up to that phone number. Results come back in one column, and hovering over them shows more details in a second column. Clicking any result opens the associated resource in a new browser tab. You can also easily iterate through results – if you’ve traced a phone number to an email address, one click will search resources for that email address and show you, for example, what other phone numbers, domain registrations, and so on that phone number is associated with.
Evolution is very good at digging up information on people (obviously, the more a person is on the web the more information it can find). In addition to Google, it looks at things like Facebook, Spock, Bebo, Friendster, Flickr, Orkut, ZoomInfo, and plenty more. Running myself through an Evolution search turned up various places I’d forgotten I had accounts or snippets of information posted online. I’ve tried some of the dedicated “people search” sites that are now in beta, and Evolution did a much better job than any of them at building a full dossier on anyone I threw at it.
In addition to the web version, Evolution has a GUI version (available for Windows or Mac/Linux) available for download. This is in beta, and comes hedged about with various warnings, including “Using Evolution is not allowed by most social networks, search engines, whois provider etc (read their TOU). By using Evolution you acknowledge that you will take full responsibility for any action by above mentioned providers. In other words – don’t come crying to me when your IP is blocked somewhere or your door is kicked in.” Obviously they’re screen-scraping or running multiple queries in addition to using published APIs. If you want to risk playing with the GUI version, you can get spiffy graphs of the connections between people, companies, emails and so on to go along with the raw information.