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Tracking Down People With a Little Help From the Internet

Tracking Down People With a Little Help From the Internet
By Reid Goldsborough

You can find a mind-boggling amount of information on the Internet about virtually every conceivable subject. However, you can’t find everything, and sometimes you have to use traditional offline sources, such as books and libraries.

The same is true with people. The Internet makes it easy to find people, but you won’t be able to find everybody.

The Internet offers many people-searching tools, whether you want to reconnect with those from your past or find employees, contractors, consultants, suppliers and others to help you solve current problems.

One of the Internet’s more intriguing people-quest applications is alumni searching. The Internet’s forte has always been bringing people together, and the second most popular site in terms of paid subscribers on the entire Internet is Classmates Online, according to the market research firm Intermarket Group.

Classmates, at , can connect you whether you’re formally involved in planning a reunion or just want to informally reminisce with old chums you have lost touch with.

Launched in 1995, Classmates is a Web old-timer. More than 32 million people have registered with it, and more than 1.7 million people have paid to receive additional features, says company representative Karli Overmier.

It’s free to register, to include your contact information, and to look for old classmates. A fraction of the people in any given class will have registered, however. I found that 85 people from my high school graduating class of about 500 students had done so.

If you want to contact old classmates, you have to become a “gold” member, which costs $36 per year. About 5 percent of people who have registered have done that, Overmier says.

Classmates tries to maintain tight control over the communication process. You send a message through the Classmates Web site to whomever you want to contact. Classmates sends an e-mail message to your recipient, indicating he or she can read your message at the Classmates Web site. When your recipient reads your note, you get an e-mail message from Classmates about this. If your recipient responds, you get another e-mail from Classmates indicating you can read his or her response at the Classmates Web site. You can of course exchange e-mail addresses at any time.

I sent a message through the site to 10 old classmates. Six people read my message, a healthy percentage. People who registered in the past and who have since changed their e-mail addresses, however, will not receive word that you’re trying to contact them.

Classmates maintains databases not only of schools (kindergarten through college) but also camps, military organizations and companies. It’s still a work in progress, but it has its benefits. Debbie Robinson of Penn Valley, Pa., went to a camp reunion this past Labor Day weekend that was organized with the help of the service. She says it was a resounding success, with more than 300 people showing up.

The Internet provides other ways to find people, including free “white page” services listing phone numbers, addresses and sometimes e-mail addresses. The best include at , Yahoo People Search at , and at .

These services aren’t foolproof for finding people. Not everyone has a listed phone number. And you may have to sort through many listings with people who have common names.

You can also do a Web search using a search engine such as Google at to find people’s home pages or mention of them elsewhere on the Web or in Usenet discussion groups. But not everyone is on the Internet.

If your people searching needs are more specialized, employment sites such as at can help you find the right employee, while contractor sites such as ServiceMagic at can help you find the right contractor. Again, these services are limited mainly because not everyone is online.

Once you have found someone and need to find information about this person, the Web can help as well. Choicepoint at is one of a number of pay services that let you perform such tasks as doing background checks on job applicants and verifying the licenses and other credentials of doctors and lawyers.

The Internet does a credible job as a bloodhound. Though as with virtually everything else, the Net is comprehensive but not complete.

— Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at [email protected] or .


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