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Robert MacMillan's Random Access

Finding the Real You Online

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 23, 2005; 9:47 AM

Many people get a thrill when they look for their names on the Internet and something actually comes up. That is not always the case when the information or the photograph recalls some past embarrassment or humiliation.

A friend of mine used to be a frequent user of an online dating service. When a fellow reporter was looking for sources on a Web dating story, I set the two up for an interview. Somewhere they experienced a communications breakdown: She didn't want her last name used, but it got into the article anyway.

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I never got the straight story on how this happened. What I do know is that every time she entered her name into the Google search engine, the No. 1 entry -- even a year later -- highlighted her enthusiasm for online dating. She didn't mind her friends and relatives seeing that kind of information, but she was more than a little unhappy when she discovered that prospective employers "Googling" her could start with a concise and prominent summary of her dating proclivities.

A new business directory service that debuted this week will try to give people like my friend more power over what the Web has to say about them. ZoomInfo," developed by the Cambridge, Mass.-based Zoom Information Inc., searches the Web for public information about people and corporations, then allows them to edit their profiles. "With us, you have the ability to ... present yourself how you want to be presented," Russell Glass, ZoomInfo's director of consumer products, told the Associated Press.

ZoomInfo's 25 million profiles -- consisting of work history, education, current position, business affiliations and other unspecified information -- won't clean up unwanted results for Googlees. "But since search engines display the most relevant results first, a well-constructed ZoomInfo profile will be the first -- or among the first -- choices that appear," Glass told the AP. In its news release, Zoom Information claims Microsoft Corp., Nike Inc., Oracle Corp., Pfizer Inc., Raytheon Co. and Staples Inc. among its customers.

The wire service quoted several skeptics who worry about the privacy implications of such services: "Preston Gralla, co-author of 'The Complete Idiot's Guide to Internet Privacy and Security,' compared it to unknowingly being trailed through public places by a private detective. 'Just because [the information] is publicly available, it's still difficult for anybody to put together,' Gralla said. 'Just the act of collecting all this information, you could consider it an invasion of privacy.'"

Plenty of people probably will, but more -- especially those with common names -- should get a kick out of finding their 15 microseconds of fame on Page 1 rather than Page 45 of their "ego search." I was happy to see that I beat the hell out of the competition, coming in as the No. 1 result for the search term "Robert MacMillan." Sometimes that's more difficult on other search engines where I'm up against the "Love of Christ" columnist Robert MacMillan, the pulp fiction Robert MacMillan and Robert MacMillan, the ninth president of the Blackface Sheep Breeders' Association from 1927 to 1928.

And hopefully, my friend will find more possible employers turning to these services, which should edge that Washington Post article out of the pole position.

Side note on ZoomInfo: A Seattle Times news roundup notes that ZoomInfo was created with an unknown amount of money from Vulcan Capital, the venture capital company owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Times staff also took ZoomInfo out for field tests, but reported negative results: "Here at the Download offices, we tried to help Allen improve his own Web identity by having fun with his résumé. We were able to add the job title Star Fleet Mission Director and language fluency in Romulan and Klingon to his profile. Strangely enough, these changes didn't show up when we refreshed the browser."

Hillary Clinton: Caught in the Act

I recently wrote an article about the political world's fascination with Web video. Many campaign professionals want to know how they can channel it to build good buzz for their candidates -- or bad buzz for opponents. But surely there must be a more sophisticated way than this: "As [Republican] U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was traveling through Central Texas on Tuesday to raise awareness of the oldest trails in the state, a video clip was being circulated via e-mail showing U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton telling a group she's 'delighted that' Hutchison 'is my partner on so many important fronts,'" the Austin American-Statesman reported. A Hutchison spokesman blamed minions of Gov. Rick Perry (R), who they said wants the senator to forsake any notion of challenging his reelection.

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