Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Marketing Wonk on Google Getting Personal
I happen to agree with their take on privacy and personalization:
But if everyone could get over this annoying privacy paranoia, it would be great to see how much better the results would with a long-term profile based not just on keywords searched, but also links clicked. Or, even better, what people clicked on... and then didn't hit the back button.

Wired article on the Search Frontier
Article on new search developments covers the usual, including Eurekster.
Eurekster vs Personalized Google

I've been checking out the personalized google and am a bit confused about it. It may be that I just need to get used to it, but I am initially unimpressed.

My first complaint is that there is no login associated with personalization. Therefore, I need to personalize every computer I work on.

Second, I have no idea how it works. Every personalized website in the past has asked me for information or observed my usage patterns and it has been very clear how it personalizes the experience. For instance, my yahoo asks me
to choose which content and where to place it. I can personalize my presentation of content and which content I want to see. Amazon uses my past behaviour and recommends new products. Not knowing how personalization works just seems like an oxymoron to me.

But thats what google does. They ask me for my interests (based on a selection of pre-defined categories) and then somehow mysteriously change the order of the normal result set for a given keyword. This approach seems pretty lame to me. If you are personalizing something for me, I want to know how its being done. Its like going to the pharmacy, telling them I enjoy racing cars and they recommend a certain type of aspirin. I ask why and they say, "Just trust us. If you don't like it, you can slide down to the next fulfillment booth, we'll both pretend this conversation never occurred, and we'll give you what we usually give everyone else. "

Next, the predefined category approach is weak. Why do I need to tell them what categories to refine my searches by? I run 100s of searches a day. It should be pretty obvious what I am interested in. And the categories themselves are limited. Do you really expect people to fit their interests into nicely defined categories? This is another example of how this service is oxymoronic: Search became popular because it was better than directories. Directories don't work because you can't fit webpages into nicely definied categories, unless there are as many categories as webpages. Don't you realize people's interests are just as difficult to categorize?

Since search personalization (atleast for consumer-facing engines) is brand new, I guess that I should be a bit more forgiving. And it is good to know that Google is working on some kind of personalization. However, I think eurekster has somethings that google should adopt. And to be fair, google has some strengths that eurekster doesn't have and may never be able to get, without being absorbed by one of the big players.

In bullet(ish) form, here are some suggestions:

- Usability: Instead of requiring me to choose categories, learn what I like from my past queries.
- Allow me to refine my search based on different categories every time. (eg. If i am searching for "red hat", let me choose to refine it by my "Linux" personalization category or my "fashion" category or my "JD Salinger" category.
- Transparency: I am not asking you to reveal your algorithm, but atleast tell me what the hell that slide is doing. Or tell me what keywords you used to refine my query. (If that is what you are doing.)
- Customization: Logins aren't inherently evil. You can implement one. Don't make me customize every computer or lose all my customization if I delete my cookies.
- Historical Search Activity. Learn from Eurekster::Learn from my past searches. Eurekster allows me to refine my searches based on my history within specific user created categories. For example, If I was interested in car racing, i could create a private 'car racing' group and it would automatically keep track of which results I found useful for a given query in the past. Remembering what I clicked onin order to refine my search results is a valid technique. Use it too. It is the middle of the road between a bookmark service and a search engine. Bridge the gap. Don't make me go to you for searches and to one of 15 other places for things I previously found interesting.
- Collaborative Searching. Create Search Groups. Eurekster is enabling groups to personalize search. So, we have the benefit of peers helping to sort out the best results for a given query based on search and visitation of the site. Not only are they viral, but 10 minds are better than one. There are 45 members on the social software search group I started on Eurekster. 45 minds are much better than one.

All that said, I think google's approach is interesting. Overall, a fusion of eurekster/personalized google would be a better service. Specifically, google's ability to refine search results without any prior search activity history (which eurekster requires) is key. They could improve it by improving the usability, transparency and customizability and by adding historical search activity memory and result refinement and collaborative searching.

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