Google and Facebook can’t help you find which of your friends are single, or live in New York and like Radiohead, but Ark can. Today Y Combinator-backed Ark.com sails into private beta in hopes of becoming the best place on the web to do people searches. With a variety of layer-able filters, Ark lets you search through public profiles and the private data of your friends across Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and other networks. It’s also got filter sets for easily discovering old classmates and new business contacts.
Ark could pull searches away from Google and Facebook, disrupt dedicated sites like Classmates.com, and give us a better way to find people than broadcasting “Who do I know here that does this?” TechCrunch readers can get early access to the beta with the instructions below.
At first it seems absolutely ridiculous that Facebook and Google fail so hard at people search, but it comes down to politics. Neither are going to readily send traffic to each other or their various competitors. Google’s Search Plus Your World showed its happy to favor Google+ listings, and Facebook doesn’t want to creep into helping you meet new people or over-complicate its service. Relevant people search results can come from any network, and by not surfacing them the tech giants have paved the way for a startup like Ark.
Rather than first typing someone’s name, Ark gives you a selection of filters to whittle down the web’s population. The options go way beyond the standard current city, hometown, employers, and education found on Facebook. There’s also gender, relationship status, and sexual preference to power dating searches; general interests and specific categories such as music and movies to find activity partners; and contact info search by email, phone, and first name to reconnect with people you’ve met. Filters can be stacked to home in on someone in particular.
Search results each show a ton of info so you don’t have to dig into each to find the right person. With one more click, every interest and other piece of data Ark has on them from Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Myspace, Orkut, Meetup, Vkontakte, and Ren Ren is revealed.
Ark adheres to privacy settings on the networks it indexes so you’ll only see public data until you connect with Facebook, which then ropes in private data you have access to. Once you find someone you’re looking for, you can view their public photos, click through to their profile on Facebook or another network, or save them on Ark and connect later. And of course there’s a mobile interface.
After trying a few other ideas, Ark’s founders Patrick Riley and Yiming Liu tell me “we imagined what would Google and Facebook build together if they weren’t at war. Someone needed to be Switzerland and build a search engine on top of all the social networks that’s completely remodeled for people looking for each other.” The two-person company is running on a $250,000 seed round from Y Combinator, Yuri Milner, SV Angel, and Andreessen Horowitz.
Riley tells me he sees little competition in dedicated people search other than from data scrapers like Rapleaf. While it’s only for finding people, — it leaves connecting with them up to you, Ark could disrupt bloated, clumsy, and expensive sites designed for seeking old school pals or local singles. Ark still needs to speed up how quickly it can crunch someone’s data after they register and the spartan design could use some polish, but the service works well for being fresh out of alpha.
While it might never be cross-network or foster new connections like Ark, I still think the startup’s biggest threat comes from Facebook improving its internal search tools. But considering Facebook’s penchant for talent buys and the fact that Riley and Liu were information retrieval PhD students at Berkeley, Ark could be an acquisition target. For now, Ark takes all the public information yearning to be free and lines it up for satisfying consumption. People search isn’t broken anymore.
The first 500 TechCrunch readers who sign up at Ark.com and send a blank to email firstname.lastname@example.org will get added to the beta over the next few days. Here’s some fun and useful people searches you can try:
- Your current city + activity: basketball = someone to shoot hoops with
- My friends tab + relationship status: single + gender you’re interested in + people interested in your gender = Potential dates you’re already friends with
- A city you’re visiting + People who Like a band that’s playing there = someone to go to the concert with
- Work for TechCrunch, VentureBeat, or GigaOm = People to pitch your startup to
- My friends tab + birthday: in April = Friends you should get gifts for
- Lives in Berlin + studied at your college or high school + speaks English and German = Someone to help you practice speaking German while on a business trip
- First name Emily + birthday in March + Studied at NYU = That ridiculous girl from New York you met during her birthday party at the bar last night
- Works at Google, Facebook, or Apple + lives in San Francisco = Smart people you could hire because they hate their commute