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April 20, 2005

Google launches My Search History, takes first step toward personalized search

By Charlene Li

With the launch of My Search History, Google takes the first major step towards enabling the Holy Grail of search – personalizing search results for each individual user. Yes, My Search History keeps track of every query and search result that you click on within Google.com. Yes, there are some pretty interesting, (and scary) implications of Google keeping all of that data on their servers.

Mayer But what struck me in my conversation with Marissa Mayer, Google’s director of consumer Web products, yesterday was that having a detailed history of your activity would allow Google to personalize search results. Marissa gave a great example – I searched on “RSS” yesterday and today searched on “Atom RSS”, Google would filter out introductory RSS Web pages and deliver more advanced articles on the Atom standard (presumably looking at similar searches done by other people and determining what they found to be most relevant based on click behavior). The implications on the consumer side are obvious – better search. And on the advertising side, marketers would spend substantially more if they could target ads to users based on their past search history (click here for the Forrester brief – available only to clients).

Marissa pointed out that My Search History is currently a Google Labs product, but that when a My Search History user goes to www.google.com and is signed in, the interface will change. This means that My Search History is integrated across the entire Google network. Users can access their history from *any* computer as long as they are signed in. Think about the infrastructure and computing power needed to scale such a product. The secret sauce: a new data field on the Google cookie that tells the engine on which server the data file is located.

I believe that My Search History use will be predominately used by students, researchers like myself, and curious search aficionados. But Google’s smart engineers are shooting for something much bigger with personalized search, and they’ve taken the first step in that direction.

So tell me, what would it take for you to sign in and give Google the permission to track all of your activities on Google? Is My Search History enough functionality for you to give up your personal search behavior data, or are you going to hold out for better functionality and service? Comment, please!


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Neil MacLean

What would it take to get me to sign in? About 10 seconds.
Done it already. Now let's see how it delivers. I have no problem with my search history living on their servers. I still write for the national press. I live on Google when I am researching a piece. This could be great. And if I want to do a personal search, hello Yahoo!

Sapna Satagopan

Hi Charlene,

Likewise--signing up didnt take a second blink. This is definitely a much-needed entry for Google--Yahoo, A9 and Ask Jeeves initiated this months ago. What remains to be seen is the relevance, more than the history of results.
The interest in the "search history" aspect is not as large as the attraction of increasingly relevant results--and if that is delivered, I believe the traffic will be too.[the scare of privacy concerns were applicable to gmail as well, but was hardly a large obstacle to users signing up]

Sumit Chachra


What we are missing is that you can actually search your search history! That sounds pretty reasonable to me.

One clear setback is someone using my laptop even for 5 minutes knows what I have been upto lately!. More so with a few clicks he can even log onto my gmail account... so being signed in all the time means your gmail is pretty much vulnerable.

Lastly, you can personalize searches only to a limit. I mean will your personal preferences or the pagerank algorithm decide the order of results? More so I may want to see the same (most relevant to my search) page on the top always, instead of google deciding for me whether its basic C or advanced Java tutorials I am looking for!!

In conclusion time is better spent giving good results to everyone, rather than trying to sell results to individuals.......


Brad Hill

Charlene, you ask what it would take to get us to use My Search History. The problem is *inadvertantly* using a feature that is unwelcome to many people. If you are signed into Gmail or Google Groups, you ARE using My Search History, whether or not you wish to document your private searching activity. By failing to provide a distinct account structure for MSH, Google is betting that convenience is more important to its users than privacy. It's the wrong bet, and I can easily imagine Google paying this.

I'm no privacy alarmist, but this seems like a clear misstep and violation of trust. It is not obviously apparent whether MSH is turned on or off, and not easy to turn off. Gmail and Groups users who don't care for MSH must suddenly be constantly aware of their sign-in status before launching a Google search--perhaps dozens of times each day. Google used to be the quickest and most productive hit-and-run destination on the Web. Now there's a big boulder in the road with this thing, for anyone who doesn't want a semi-public record of their searches.

I'm using it, and admiring the implementation, but I think overall it's a mistake.

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