Sooner or later, everybody searches for their own name (and often the names of close friends). We can take advantage of this to help locate lost friends without costing them their privacy or an annual subscription.

I was quite impressed when I first saw the site 'Friends Reunited' - a website that claims to be able to put people in touch with their lost friends for a small annual fee. This site relies on the fact that you might find the details of a lost friend from the millions who have already registered. If the person you are looking for is not listed on the site then you can register your own details and hope that that friend will come along and find you. It's a good concept that has brought it's inventors and imitators much money.

It occurred to me that it might there is a much cheaper solution to this problem that does not rely on your friends providing their information to a third party or paying a cent; simply make a list of the friends you are looking for on a site that is well indexed by Google and then wait for them to search for their own name - nearly every Internet user has searches for their own name least once.

I want to create an effect where somebody searching Google for their own page will find one with a high page-rank and be surprised to see their own name, and a little fact known only by a long lost acquaintance. Curiosity alone will compel most people to investigate further. If you know a little about how Google works, it's possible to design web-sites so that they are more likely to rank highly on searches. I've used these “Search Engine Optimization” tricks to increase the chances that a friend will spot one of my pages. This is how I do it:

Start by making a web page which includes a vertical list of the friends you are looking for:

  • At least the first name and last name of the friend you are looking for. Middle names or nicknames are also acceptable if known.
  • Include an explanation of what you are trying to do - people might be freaked out to find an anonymous looking list of names which includes their own.
  • Include some kind of contact information - without the ability to contact you, none of this is any use.
  • Suggest a way for others who are looking for this person to contribute clues or add their own names.

On the list, make an 'A' hypertext link from a missing friend's name to a page that contains:

  • The friend's name in the h1 and title tags - this is important because Google recognises these traditional tags as the most significant items on the page.
  • Any other nicknames or possible mis-spellings of your friend's name.
  • A short story that reveals some information that allows the friend reading the story to know you are talking about them without revealing anything that is private or embarrassing.
  • The story could include linked names of friends of that friends. If you expand the net to include information about the friends (on their own page), they might be able to help you find the subject of your search. Make sure you link back to the original from any friends of friends pages â that way the user is more likely to browse around the site.

Submit the main page to Google and DMOZ, and then hope that a spider will come along and index your new web-site. Sometimes this can take more than three months so do not hold your breath.

Google is more likely to visit your site sooner if other sites link to you. A good place to get a link to your site is from other related wiki-sites. The wiki design allows you to add your own content to a relevant page - obviously this can be abused, so we need to be good wiki citizens!

My preferred software for creating this kind of website is WikiTikiTavi, a set of Wiki PHP scripts. You could even post your friend list on your Everything2 homenode, but the sort of cryptic messages that work best in this scheme do not make good reading on E2.

You can view my own (incomplete) effort on this page:

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