If you and a friend are searching online using the same keywords, would you assume the results you’re given will be the same? If you’re using Google, that isn’t the case.
According to The Register, Google is now personalizing about 20 percent of your Web search results.
Google’s Bryan Horling who works with the company’s personalized search team, spoke at the SMX West conference in Santa Clara, California recently. According to Horling, as many as one in five of your searches are tailored to your location, Web history and online contacts in an effort to deliver you search results that are more relevant to you.
Horling said anyone who is using Google today is going to be affected by personalization, and it goes beyond the typical country-based tweaks where a search for “government” in Canada will yield different results than the same search in Australia, for example.
Using personalized search, Google is tweaking results on an individual’s behaviour. However, Horling said the changes are subtle. “When these techniques fire, the changes tend to relatively minor,” he said. “We’re moving a few results. We might be moving a few down. We’re generally not changing the entire character of the page.”
Google is not only tailoring searches for its members who have a Google account, but also for anonymous users who hit the search site. When an anonymous person (someone not logged into the Google network) searches, Google will personalize search results based on that user’s Web history and cookies set on a user’s browser.
The recent launch of Google Buzz is also playing a role in personalized search, as Google uses your chat contacts and people you’re “following” on Buzz in order to tailor search results. “The idea behind social search is that we surface content from your social circle,” Horling said. Social search will do things like show you a document your friend wrote in search results if it’s related to something you’re searching for, and that document will receive more prominence on the page.
So why doesn’t Google make major changes based on your individual tastes? According to The Register, the company doesn’t make massive changes because keywords entered by the user make it pretty clear what they’re searching for, and computer algorithms are not always 100 percent accurate when they try to fill in context around a particular search.
Not everyone thinks personalized search is a good thing. Mike Melanson with ReadWriteWeb, says, “While this might be good for some things, we’re thinking it could also be like formulating an answer before someone even finishes asking the question.”
Melanson suggests Google offer the ability to opt-out of personalized search so a user who wants to see the Web unfiltered will have the ability to do so without logging out of their Google account, clearing their browser history and cache.
In related search and personalization news, Google made a search-related announcement yesterday, introducing a new feature intended to make it easier for you to mark and rediscover your favorite web content — stars.
Using Google’s star feature (similar to bookmarking or marking a webpage as a favourite), you can mark pages you like so they reappear in future searches. So if you have a favourite hockey team, retail store or website, you can star it and future searches related to that site will slingshot your starred sites to the top of the list.
“The great thing about stars is that you don’t have to keep track of them,” writes Cedric Dupont, Product Manager and Matthew Watson, Software Engineer, on Google’s official blog. “You don’t even have to remember whether or not you starred something. Simply perform a search and you’ll rediscover your starred items right when you need them. Stars sync with your Google Bookmarks and the Google Toolbar, so you can always see your list of starred items in one place and easily organize them. Even beyond the results page, while browsing the web you can quickly click the star icon in Toolbar to create a bookmark, and those pages will start showing up in the new stars feature.”