Google Me: An exclusive interview with the CEO of Vizibility

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I recently tested the services of a new start up called Vizibility. They have developed an innovative service which is like a “Google Me” button for individuals.  It can be posted to online profiles, personal websites, resumes, email signatures, business cards and anywhere else a user wants to be visible.  I believe it will quickly become a standard component utilized for personal branding.  Through a simple wizard, the Vizibility service enables people to quickly create the optimal Google search for themselves based on their name, employment history, and relevant keywords. It also allows for exclusion of irrelevant keywords and inaccurate search results. This PreSearch can be shared easily through a short, personalized link or “SearchMe” button.  I recently talked to company founder James Alexander about his new company (you can Google him at: vizibility.com/james):

James, tell us how you came up with the idea for Vizibility?

The inspiration for Vizibility hit when I couldn’t find myself in Google.  I spent a great deal of time learning how the engine worked and experimenting with the advanced search features.  Ultimately I was able to create the perfect query for me that returned the right set of search results.  The query was long and used a lot of Boolean jargon but it worked.  In an unintended tribute to the movie Minority Report, I started calling this curated query a “PreSearch” because I built the search in advance of someone actually needing it.  I posted my PreSearch on LinkedIn and the light bulb went off!

In going through this process, I was struck by four things: first, using advanced search is just too time consuming for most people; second, the ability to easily post or share searches didn’t exist; third, even if someone could share their PreSearch, they would need to be able to change it from time-to-time (when they changed jobs, for instance), and; fourth, a user also wants to know when their search results change and when they’re being “Googled”.   All the ingredients were there for a new approach to people search.

Ok, can you get more granular on the problem Vizibility solves for individuals?

For career professionals “Googling” and being “Googled” are now standard practice for professional, personal and other reasons.  If you cannot be found quickly in search engines, you miss an important opportunity to make a powerful impression and validate your credentials. Almost all companies are conducting online searches prior to hiring anyone.

When it comes to search engines, individuals have three fundamental problems that Vizibility helps to address: 1. Name expansion; 2. Mistaken identity, and; 3. Name entry errors.

Name expansion is a big problem.  I was recently introduced to Carl Mark, one of the founders of Jones Soda.  Not only is his name common, search engines use expansion dictionaries to find variations of each word and then return a name combination that it thinks you meant.  In his case, Google thought I wanted to see results for “Karl Marx”.  This produced useless results, of course.  I understand the logic behind the approach search engines take but it really exposes the fact the search engines have a significant blind spot when it comes to people search.

Mistaken identity can happen when two or more people have the same name.  It can be serious because the results may look like they are about you but are actually about someone else.  I read a story recently in which a woman named Lauren Bernat felt her job search was hurt by the search results for someone else with the same name whose results cast her in a negative light (http://www.hrtechnews.com/mistaken-identity-google-search-hurts-womans-job-hunt/).

Name entry errors are a problem for people with names that are difficult to spell.  When we were developing Vizibility, I would occasionally hear someone tell me they have a truly one-of-a-kind name and probably wouldn’t need a service like this.  I find that level of uniqueness and spelling difficulty usually go hand-in-hand.   Having a one-click SearchMe button overcomes this problem, of course.

The challenges we address don’t stop with the people being searched.  The people doing searches face problems too.  If you’re searching for someone online, you don’t want to have to become an expert at advanced search to find nuggets here and there about your target.  You want to spend the least amount of time and energy to get the most accurate, trustworthy results.  That’s why Vizibility displays the results of its users’ PreSearches on the Google site and transparently shows all of the search terms that were used to build it.

Obviously, that has particular interest to folks in career transition, is this your core market? How do you see it working for job seekers?

The concept behind PreSearch and the methods used to create them apply to people as well as to products and services.  We’ll be rolling out some interesting new services later in 2010 for businesses.  For individuals, which is our immediate focus, we think of our core market as anyone who needs to be visible within a search engine.  This includes transactional use for active job seekers, of course.  But it also includes passive job hunters who don’t want to miss that next opportunity.  It includes entire categories of professions such as lawyers, management consultants, Realtors, communication professionals, etc. who are routinely “Googled” as part of the screening process.

How do you intend to charge for your service?

The basic service is free.  So anyone can create and/or update their PreSearch with our wizard and download a SearchMe button.  We also offer a $2.95 monthly subscription or an annual $29.95 subscription which provides premium services such as alerts when you’ve been searched or when your search results have changed.

Can you offer a compare and contrast of your offering with People Pond, My Life or Place Your Name?

There is clearly a lot of interest in improving people search and it’s only going to get more intense. The approach to date has largely centered around three strategies:

  1. Seeded Profiles: In this approach, a user proactively creates a searchable profile on a 3rd party site which is then seeded in search engines. Access to these profiles is often only available for a fee or to other members of that site (i.e. MyLife, Google Profiles, Classmates, LinkedIn, etc.).
  2. Crawling: In this approach, servers crawl publicly available information collecting data on people and sell access to it on a proprietary site (i.e. ZoomInfo, Intelius, WhoWhere, PeekYou, 123People, etc.). On some sites, like ZoomInfo, people can ‘claim’ their profiles.
  3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): This approach attempts to boost organic results for individuals by creating content about them and seeding it all over the Internet (i.e. PeoplePond, PlaceYourName, LookUpPage, ReputationDefender, etc.).  Businesses have been doing SEO for years and these tactics are now being brought to individuals.  It can be expensive and once you start, you have to keep it up.

Individually or in combination, there is no question that these can be useful approaches.  None, however, can address the fundamental people search problems of name expansion, mistaken identity, or name entry errors.  If two people with similar names start an SEO campaign, for instance, you’re back where you started.

In contrast, Vizibility’s approach is not about hoping to influence search results or trying to drive Google users to some other site to see a profile.  Through the simple idea of creating of a robust and portable PreSearch, our approach is to leverage the strength of search engines themselves to build a set of search results that are entirely about a specific individual.

What about Reputation Defender?

ReputationDefender, along with a bevy of other personal online reputation management firms, provide a variety of services for individuals to improve their search placement primarily through SEO techniques.  Some of these firms will also help someone try to remove what could be viewed as negative material online.  These will be useful services to some people.  Unlike SEO, however, our approach isn’t to influence search results but rather to outright control them through a highly focused PreSearch that can be posted anywhere and easily tracked.

Your solution seems spot on in terms of matching a user friendly application to a problem. Can you tell us a little about yourself, your team and how you created the Vizibility application?

I started two technology companies in the 1990’s and spent most of the last decade as a product management executive at Adobe, when the company almost tripled in size from  about $1B in revenue to more than $3B in revenue.  My first start up, which I co-founded in late 1994, was called eWatch and helped Fortune 1000 companies manage their brands online (PR Newswire acquired the company in 1999).  There are some obvious parallels with Vizibility.

The core team at Vizibility includes people I’ve worked with in the past in marketing and development.  The application was built for us by Navantis, one of the largest independent software development companies in Canada.  Today’s release is a beta so we’ll be initially focused on tightening up the service and the experience.  We have a terrific product roadmap for the rest of the year as well and will be releasing several useful new features in the quarters ahead.

Thanks so much for granting us this interview in conjunction with your launch.  Career Brander intends to promote your solution to job seekers and add access to your application within our Job Search 2.0 Link Directory.  Is there anything else you would like to add in closing?

Thank you Ian.  We appreciate the opportunity to tell you and your readers a little more about Vizibility.  I’d encourage everyone to create a free, custom SearchMe link from our site at http://www.vizibility.com.

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