Did you and your friend attend the same school or college together? Try to get information through the website of the school or college. If your friend is not listed anywhere on these sites, try the various class reunion websites, like classmates.
Is your friend a member of a professional organization that has a web presence? Has he or she written a book, an article, or been cited in one ? More and more books and articles are published to the web every month.
If you are looking for a celebrity, a public figure, or someone who is extremely active on the internet, the above Step 1 and/or Step 2 are usually enough to find real information about that person. In fact, you’ll probably find yourself confronted with far too much information. You’ll need a way to winnow it down.
In the case of celebrities, a simple search on their names is likely to produce more results than you want. You’re likely to find fan sites, which can be excellent resources, but beware of the ones that offer nude pictures. Generally, the offers of clothed pictures are legitimate and the offers of nude ones are fakes, come-ons to try to get you to buy a subscription to a porn site. (In case you haven’t learned it already, the many varieties of sexual content on the internet are rarely offered free of charge).
To narrow it down, put in both the celebrity’s name and the name of a movie or song or book or TV show they’re associated with. Multiple titles are an even better way to find their sites. This works particularly well for authors.
If the celebrity is an athlete in a major US team sport, several big sports sites keep pages on every single player, including links to up-to-date news. These include Yahoo, ESPN, Sportsline, as well as the sites for leagues such as the NBA and NFL.
If the person you’re looking for is careful enough about his privacy to have removed his personal info from various websites and databases, you may find it difficult to get any information about him. You can pay to access special databases at sites like peoplefind and peoplesearch.
Anything that is a matter of public record is probably recorded in an electronic database. Not all such databases are web-accessible, and those that are usually charge a fee. What is available is often determined by individual state laws or policies. What you can find from the state of Iowa might be quite different from what you can find from the state of New York.
Information that is likely to be contained in public records includes birth and death certificates, marriage certificates, divorce judgments (sometimes), home purchase and sales information, professional credentials verification, court and legal proceedings (not always), arrest records, bankruptcy filings, and other events that are recorded by public officials, state and federal divisions of vital statistics, and other public entities.
Telephone books (white pages and yellow pages) are widely available now on the web. This means that if you know someone’s name and what town they live in, you can access their address, phone number, even their age. There are also databases (“reverse look-up”) that allow you to type in a phone number and get the name and address of the person who owns the phone.
If you know the address of the person you are seeking, you can easily get a map of his town, street, and neighborhood on the many web map sites. Some maps are precise enough to show the exact location of his home.