Tracking down old friends can be made easier by looking up e-mail addresses. It's a hit-and-miss affair, though, and you might end up being mistaken for someone's long-lost uncle from Kentucky

Give Seventies sci-fi film-makers their due. For all their crimes, they did at least manage to spot that people's names are about to undergo a serious revolution. If I'd been in Logan's Run, for example, I'd probably be stuck with a name like Maxton 7. But in the real world, the danger could be far more acute. Your e-mail address will probably end up becoming a much more integral part of your life than the mere name your parents gave you. If you've ever looked for your own name on the Internet (admit it, you've done it), you'll know that we all have, for want of a better word, "name-twins". Your e-mail, on the other hand, is unique to you and has the added advantage of doubling as your address.

But I've recently been wondering to what extent it's possible to look up long-lost acquaintances through the Net. I've already been contacted by one old friend who saw my address at the top of this column (not a great example, I know; most people don't have their e-mail address published in a national newspaper every week) but shortly before that I was contacted by somebody in Alaska who wanted to know if I was their long-lost uncle Max Walker from Kentucky.

There are a host of e-mail directories which use a number of methods for compiling lists, the most common being culling names from newsgroups and mailing lists. The best place I've found to start a search is "world e-mail". It supplies an index of directories and you just work your way through, typing in the name or e-mail address of the person you're looking for. There is a knack to searching. E-mail addresses, as you probably already know, often use odd permutations of Christian names and surnames. There's no hard-and-fast rule, and you get better with practice.

My pretty skimpy research (all I did was look for my own address and that of a couple of friends) seems to suggest that it's a pretty hit-and- miss business. You may get lucky and find the person you're looking for in a couple of minutes. But the dictum seems to be that if you don't get somewhere fairly quickly, then you're probably going to be disappointed.

After the dust settles, you may find you've whittled your search down to a few name-twins, and then your only option is to e-mail each one and ask them if they are indeed the school friend you never had the courage to ask out when you were 14.

It seems to me that not quite enough people have e-mail addresses yet to make this a reliable way of seeking people out. But things are changing fast, and I see a lot of tearful reunions in the years to come. My real ambition, though, is to set up a party for all the Max Walkers around the world; I could probably organise it in an evening. And just think what a story it would make.

Find old friends on the Web

http://worldemail.com

By far the best place to start. Provides an index to other search engines on the Internet.

http://www.whowhere.com/

Another well-known e-mail index.

http://www.yahoo.co.uk/mailsearch/email.html

Yahoo search engine's e-mail directory for people in the UK and Ireland.

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