You’re not a snoop or a gossip. You don’t consider yourself naturally suspicious. You try to practice the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
That doesn’t mean you take everyone at face value. The world is a big, complicated place, and humans are hard-wired to be skeptical of new people, places, and experiences.
Whether your job or business demands that you reach out to strangers or barely-acquaintances unprompted, or you find yourself in a new professional or social environment where success depends on knowing who you’re dealing with, you need to be able to find accurate, detailed information on others. And quickly.
These five resources can help you do just that. You’ve probably heard of some of them, maybe most, but chances are good you’re not exploiting them as you should. Here’s what you need to know about each.
PeoplePill might be the lowest-profile resource on this list. It’s also hard to beat for basic biographical research on people who are well-known in their fields but aren’t immediately recognizable public figures.
This example PeoplePill page shows just how useful the platform can be. It’s an in-depth overview of the life and career of someone who, again, is prominent in their field but who certainly isn’t a household name. Like most PeoplePill pages, its contents come from other public-domain platforms (like Wikipedia), but with added synthesis — a big plus for time-pressed researchers — and a degree of comprehensiveness difficult to find elsewhere.
PeoplePill has a user-submitted content feature, which is useful for researching controversial or obscure people. (The platform does remove content it considers harmful or malevolent.) There’s an image gallery feature as well, though not all profiles have photos attached and you’ll need to credit the original source if you pull them for your own use.
LinkedIn needs no introduction whatsoever. Even if you don’t actively use it to further your own career, you’ve used it to look others up. If your role revolves around personnel research, you probably use it every day.
But there’s a wide gap between basic LinkedIn usage (call it “conversational” LinkedIn-ing) and truly proficient usage (call it “LinkedIn fluency”).
One aspect of LinkedIn that many researchers leave untapped is the Groups feature, which has expanded to the point that most active users are members of multiple Groups (including some with only a tenuous connection to their actual roles or career tracks). Scouting relevant Groups is an efficient way to build personnel or contact lists, which you can then winnow based on the content of list members’ profiles and other digital sources of information as needed.
Wikipedia also needs no introduction. And despite purists’ insistence that it’s not an accurate or reliable source of information, Wikipedia is a really useful online research tool thanks to its sheer breadth and comprehensiveness. Yes, you should always check its sources and use other sources to verify claims as appropriate — but Wikipedia alone can get you 80% of the way to completing most basic people research tasks.
4. Other Wiki Sites
Wikipedia isn’t the only free wiki-style encyclopedia. It’s joined by Wikialpha and Everybodywiki, among others. And while no other wiki’s editor community can match the size or dedication of the original Wikipedia’s, some alternative wiki platforms are reliable enough and complementary enough that they’re worth using in their own right. Everybodywiki began as a project to “save” thousands of articles marked for deletion on Wikipedia, for example, and it still has tons of obscure people listings you won’t find elsewhere.
Crunchbase is a “people and companies” database with a bias toward high-growth industries. If you need up-to-date information on investors, senior corporate leaders, and/or entrepreneurs, Crunchbase belongs in your bookmarks list.
One of Crunchbase’s hidden strengths is a more data-heavy approach than biography-driven resources like Wikipedia and PeoplePill. It’s not that you can’t find key numbers elsewhere; it’s that Crunchbase distills this information in an easy-to-digest format.
An “All of The Above” Approach?
You might have a “favorite” information resource on this list. That’s fine. Everyone has preferences.
It’s important not to let that “favorite” become an “only,” though. That’s a recipe for inaccuracies, incompleteness, and biases to creep into your work. Great researchers use multiple sources whenever they can, even if it’s just to check the accuracy of a tidbit here and a nugget there.
Good thing the resources on this list are, for the most part, comprehensive and reliable enough to complement one another. An “all of the above” approach to researching the people you need to deal with — now and in the future — is a lot easier to achieve than it appears.