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Link of the Week: Man- (or woman-) hunt via Google

One extremely common task for a reporter is tracking someone down, be they the subject of a story, a witness, an expert, a bad guy or whatever. I hardly need to say that the routine first stop in such a search is Google. But searching for individuals via Google is not entirely as simple as it seems, so this brief entry will offer a few tips.

Although I generally favor literal searches in Google (those “in quotes,” or with a hyphen-between-the-words) because they narrow down the results to the exact phrase you’re looking for, they don’t work as well with names. That’s because the name of a single individual can appear in many different formats: Tim Curran | Timothy Curran | Timothy A. Curran | Timothy Augustin Curran | Curran, Timothy | Curran, Timothy A. | Timmy Curran… etc., etc., etc.

For this reason, I usually do name searches on Google using just the first and last name, without surrounding quotes. For this purpose, Google has most other search engines beat, because it does the best job of interpreting the query as a name, and returning results that include not just the name in the query, but all the likely variants as well.

In the case of very common names (e.g. “Mark Johnson”), it may be necessary to put the name in quotes, and to try a few variants. It also might be helpful to throw in a related search term or two (a job title, or city, or anything else likely to turn up in a description) that narrow the results. But in such instances, it is often helpful to try more ‘people’ specific search engines, about which, more in the next Link of the Week.

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