Friday, April 12, 2013

Facebook is also Findbook

When authors need to track down specific people to interview, quite possibly the best tool these days is Facebook. I’ve been using it for this purpose for about five years. (Funnily, in 2007, I reached the most pivotal figure I would uncover in my Bill Finger research…via MySpace.)

Sometimes Facebook instantly leads to direct hits. More often it takes some detective work to wend your way to who you want, especially with common names (like Howard Murphy) or with people who aren’t on Facebook under their own names, not to mention people with some degree of celebrity.

Facebook may not always get you all the way to your target, but it sure can help shorten the route quickly. The person you seek may not be on Facebook—or may not even be alive—but people who know that person are…and they may agree to put you in touch (if the person is indeed alive).

Looking for more than one person (i.e. members of a former band) is almost easier; there is a greater chance that any potential contact will know at least one from the group. This is, for example, how I found some of the Sea World skiers.

In such a case, finding only one can be all the lead you need; the first can then point you toward others s/he knew, and the leapfrogging begins. You can also skim his/her friends list for other names on your scavenger hunt.

If I don’t hear back from certain people, I may randomly ask some of their friends if they would help. You do encounter a lot of non-responders (unfortunately, there is sometimes a perception that a person in my position is after more than he says—the telemarketer syndrome). But as mentioned, it takes only one hit.

Speaking of which…

Recently, on a quest to find certain people, I tried using Facebook in a different way. This way is less time-consuming, but also riskier.

And my first experiment with it was a resounding success.

Facebook helped me find two women who had non-speaking roles in a 1984 music video—and whose names I didn’t know.

I’d been searching for them on and off for several weeks without luck. So on the morning of 2/27/13, I simply posted a photo of each woman and asked if any of my 1,800 Facebook friends knew either of them, or even just either name. I also asked people to share this query. And they did.

Within three hours, I had both names. Within three more hours, I had contact info for both. I was astounded, not to mention grateful. The power of social media grows ever more staggering.

So why is this a risky approach to research?  

One reason: it is hard to keep your project-in-progress confidential when you publicly poll almost everyone you know. 

Another: people often ask favors of their friends on Facebook—donate here, sign this, forward thatand many of those causes are truly worthy. This one, however, while part of my job, is not exactly a matter of life and death. I don’t want to barge into peoples feeds with a pursuit that can be seen as frivolous by comparison. Luckily in this case, many people were willing to help, and as I promised, it took very little time to do so.

Not everyone is online. And not everyone online is easily findable, even when you know his/her name. (And not everyone findable wants to be found, but that’s another story.)

Yet Facebook is a game-changer when it comes to looking for (nameless) needles in haystacks. For all the talk of how social networking sites are turning us into
real-world strangers, Facebook does shrink the gap between human connections. Call it eighteen hundred degrees of separation.

As for why I was searching for two people from a 1984 video, stayed tuned (and see hint in the Labels)...

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