What's Your Favorite Online Private Eye Tool?

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The other afternoon, I was out with a new editor friend. She and I chatted about our shared love of riding bikes around New York City, about the proper way to prepare a good cup of tea (just ask Christopher Hitchens), and that age-old question: Is Yoko Ono awesome or not? (If you've never seen the video of her conceptual art experiment, in which she lets members of the audience use a pair of scissors to cut off as much of her hair as they'd like, it could inform your opinion.)

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I said goodbye to my new pal feeling pretty excited that I was getting to know such a cool person … and when I came home, after a Google search on her turned up little that was satisfying, I decided to see if she was on Twitter. I'm not sure what I hoped to find there, besides an account for her — did I want to know if she followed Radiohead? if there were any under-the-radar literary mags she kept an eye on? if she had a secret obsession that would be revealed by all the Justin Beiber blogs she retreated? Unfortunately, if these were my questions, they went unanswered. Her name is relatively common, so there were too many of her for me to figure out which one was real.

This little foray back into the world of online inquisition (not to say stalking) reminded me of a moment in my life (a "moment" that happened to last many years) when I was a lot more invested in doing serious cyber-sleuthing on any guy I had a crush on. I'd look at his blog (if he had one). I'd see which mutual friends we shared on Facebook. I'd track down this or that awkward photo of him in his underwear, holding a hand up to the camera, taken by his college roommate, and feel a little less intimidated. But I'd also look up his wishlist on Amazon.com to see what books or DVDs or CDs he was interested in — and that was usually my favorite little window into his personality! Maybe because it seemed a little more unguarded than the other options, and a little more like a straight-forward reflection of the things he was thinking about, rather than a self-conscious attempt to present himself through a profile.

All of this made me wonder: What are your favorite Internet private eye tools when you're trying to find out a little more about your new favorite person?

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