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September 13, 2011 1:29 PM   Subscribe

How do you go about finding old friends online when they have super-common names?

I'd rather not hire a personal investigator or anything, but there are a couple people (one from childhood, one from a job I had over a decade ago) whom I'd like to connect with, and unfortunately I don't have much information to go on. First name, last name, maybe what state they were originally from, and of course I remember their faces, though it's been years.

Facebook searches return page after page of people who aren't them, or MIGHT be them but there is no profile photo or information accessible. Google searches are even worse. We don't have any mutual friends that I know of.

Any thoughts?
posted by hermitosis to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I found an old friend with a ridiculously common name via mutual friends on facebook. I've also sent a few facebook messages to people to see if they were the person I was looking for. One of them actually was.
posted by Zophi at 1:31 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have sent short messages to people to see if it was the person I was looking for, but after like fifteen attempts I gave up -- most of them didn't even write back.

In either case, I have little reason to believe that we have any mutual friends, and if they did happen to add someone I know, I would find out about about it pretty quickly.
posted by hermitosis at 1:34 PM on September 13, 2011

If you know them from childhood, can you figure out what high school they probably went to? For former coworkers, I'd use LinkedIn and see if they listed your company as a previous employer.
posted by desjardins at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2011

Spokeo can be pretty good for stalking, if you know a full name and location. Helpful if you remember the old friend's family members' names, since the often show up linked to the name you search.

Of course I think Spokeo is scary and Orwellian, and have had my information removed from it, so if your old friend did that too you're out of luck.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Try playing with Pipl as well.
posted by smitt at 1:39 PM on September 13, 2011

You need to pick your brain for more information.

I'm ridiculously good at google stalking (I say this with a mixture of pride and guilt). I've found people who were, say, in my first grade class by remembering things like the town they moved to in third grade, or the fact that they were into training their dogs to catch frisbees, or that they ran websites on obscure kid's book series in the 90s. Sometimes it can be as simple as musical tastes--searching for one friend by "Name"+"State"+"punk" turned them up. Or sometimes an obscure bit of family trivia; one middle school friend was the granddaughter of a minor TV celebrity, so I found her that way.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:45 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a really common name. I get facebook messages all the time (well, I used to, at least, back when facebook was going through its graded mass expansions) from random people asking if I'm the so-and-so from such-and-such. No, sorry. Not me. But I'm used to it and don't find it weird at all; I assume most people are the same way. ...If you're at all concerned about bothering common-named people.

Something I've had success with in finding people is if they were heavily involved in any sports or activities that they might have pursued later in life and been recognized for in the paper. Stuff like:

"Mary Jones" Wisconsin horses
"Joe Smith" Ohio cross country
"Mike Brown" Alabama honor roll

I've found at least two common-named people from my past with that rubric, and another one by knowing her sister's (also common) name and (unusual) sport.
posted by phunniemee at 1:46 PM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Here are my cases so far.

For the childhood friend, he moved away in 4th grade. I don't know to where. He claimed that either his dad or uncle (can't remember which) worked for Nintendo, but that might have been a lie. I know the first name of one of his cousins, but I don't know whether they shared a last name. I remember the name of his dog back then. Various searches of combinations of these have been fruitless.

For the work friend, I knew her first and last name, and I knew that she was originally from Kansas, and that she had a brother. But because we were mostly work friends, I didn't really know any other details.

No idea what either of them could possibly be interested in now. I knew both of them in Arizona, but they could be anywhere now, so I don't have a location. When I use Arizona as a keyword, almost all the results are people who currently live there, not those who used to live there.

Thanks for the site suggestions. I'll poke around there.
posted by hermitosis at 2:03 PM on September 13, 2011

Zabasearch is good for this as well.
posted by Diablevert at 2:06 PM on September 13, 2011

You've already told us you know more about them then their name and their home state.

For the former coworker, you know where you two worked, and therefore what industry/career he's in now or used to be. Search for their name and the name of the company on linkedin. Or her name and the name of the industry or a likely job title, both on linkedin and via google - maybe they've gone to conference or something.

The schoolmate may be harder, but at least start with alumni related searches, and because you definitely had a other schoolmates, look up THOSE people on facebook and see if any of them are friends with the person you're looking for.
posted by Kololo at 2:11 PM on September 13, 2011

Craigslist Missed Connections - you can post in the city you met in, the city they were from, and so on. Say "Hey, I'm looking for John Johnson, who worked in X at Y. If you're him, or you know him, I'd love to get back in touch." You can set up a throwaway gmail account to attach to it, and have people who think they know your person contact that.
posted by knile at 2:13 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The former co-worker and I were waiters together when we were both about 20, and we were both in fairly transient situations. I have been in touch with the owner of that restaurant, who also claims to have never heard from this person since.

I am already friends on various social networks with the schoolmates who might have had contact with the other friend -- it was a very tiny town, so this is not very many people.

Never thought of doing missed connections!
posted by hermitosis at 2:17 PM on September 13, 2011

For the school mate, you might try an old yearbook? Maybe he signed his name and left a phone number.
posted by yb2006shasta at 3:12 PM on September 13, 2011

I have had good luck finding people by doing google image searches. Plug in everything you know about them and choose Image Search. Then wade through pages of pictures. I found a girl who I was a nanny for when she was about 6. She's all grown up, married, and teaching at a private Hebrew school now, but she still has the same smile.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:02 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

For finding the classmate, it's worth giving classmates.com a try. It's an opt-in service, so if they haven't opted in, they won't be there, but there's always a chance. If they're there, look to see their current location, then use that location in the search engines mentioned above.
posted by exphysicist345 at 8:06 PM on September 13, 2011

It's kind of a crazy site, but you could post a request on the topix.com for your old city, asking if anyone is in contact.
posted by cyndigo at 11:21 PM on September 13, 2011

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