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June 28, 2005

Google launches personalized search

By Charlene Li

It was only two short months ago that Google launched My Search History, which I said would form the foundation for their personalized search service. That promise came to fruition today with the launch of Personalized Search. Taken in combination with their personalized home page service, you can begin to see a more personalized Google taking shape.

From what I understand, the personalized search service is based on a user’s past queries. The example Google gives is that the query “bass” would show results about the instrument and not the fish if that user frequently searched for music information in the past.

Kudos to Google for launching this so quickly after laying the foundation with My Search History, but they had no choice as there’s plenty of competition from Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves coming down the pipe with their various personalized search offerings.

I haven’t had a chance to put the product through its paces yet (and besides, it’s going to take a while to build up that search history), but I suspect we’ll be seeing the following improvements made in rapid succession. The goal: to create increasingly personalized results without going too overboard and delivering results that get personalization wrong.

Improvement #1: Prioritize searching through feeds, bookmarks, and saved sites. As a user, I’ve already indicated when certain pages and sites bear greater relevance to me –their URLs and content are saved in my browser and RSS aggregator. Personalized search could leverage Google Desktop Search to provide better intelligence on what’s relevant and what’s not. I expect that Yahoo! is in a prime position to use this technique as it has millions of RSS users on MyYahoo! and also has been encouraging users to save sites to MyWeb.

Improvement #2: Add clickstream data to the personalization engine. Google should be tracking when a users clicks on a link to another site – but then quickly comes back to click on another link. The inference: that page wasn’t that relevant. One simple step would be to eliminate that link from subsequent queries with refined search criteria. More complex calculations would analyze the semantics of the referred page and eliminate similarly irrelevant pages from future searches. Google should take some notes from Choicestream, which provides personalization services for publishers (it powers the movie and shopping personalization engines on Yahoo!) by leveraging user clickstream data and grouping content into categories.

And of course, how can we discuss personalized search without bringing up privacy? Just as with any of the other personalized search services, Google provides the user with tremendous control, ranging from turning off search tracking to toggling back and forth between standard and personalized search results.

This is a major step forward in the personalization space – and Google masterfully laid the groundwork with My Search History. It will be interesting to see how Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves unroll their personalized search strategies – they took similar approaches in creating a “MyWeb” and “MyJeeves” service, respectively, rather than an automated way to track what’s relevant, what’s not. Stay tuned for more action on this front!


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Brad Hill

Charlene, I must disagree with your assessment of the Google user's "tremendous control" over My Search History and Personalized Search. To the contrary, the sharpest criticism I have of these services centers around the lack of user control and automated nature of the tracking. Tying the Gmail sign-in to Google searches makes it all to easy to inadvertantly create a search history. Google users who have an account (and Google is seemingly creating a new reason to start an account every week) must remember to sign out before conducting a search if they don't want to be tracked--a profound change in habit for most Google users.

Compare this relatively dumb style of operation to Yahoo!'s My Web and My Web 2.0 (released this week), which beautifully weaves saving/tagging features into search results. Now *that* is control at the user's fingertips. Furthermore, the My Web 2.0 concept of "social search" is miles ahead of Google's reliance on equations. Collaboritive filtering is what users want these days, partly for the greater control and partly because people are more interested in the choices of other people than in the choices of machines.

Sorry, but Google is choking on Yahoo!'s dust in the entire peronalization arena, from the "My" page right through to filtered search results.



This is exactly what I wished for when personalized search was introduced back in March 04. Yahoo's approach is different and better for experts. The novice users want useful links/ information on the first page of search results. And this is the only way to give what they want.

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