Google personalized search, is it the real thing?

It was my first prediction for 2004, and now here it is: Google Personalized Search.

I played around with it a bit yesterday, but so far i am not convinced of this version’s added value. Right now, all it does is filter results by categories (and recalculating relevancy within those), which is a useful feature, but i wouldn’t call it personalization just because a cookie saves your preferences for future searches. It is likely that this tool is just the tip of the iceberg and will evolve into a full-featured personalized search interface in the future, but right now, i think to call it personalized is a bit of an exaggeration.

I did a couple of test-drives with it and i didn’t see a significantly better search experience. In some of the cases maximum personalization actually decreased the relevancy of my query a lot.

E.g. i searched for “online marketing” and “interactive marketing” hoping to find general internet marketing resources like the IAB site, Clickz, etc. The results weren’t too good for un-personalized searches either, but personalization seemed to make them even worse, cluttering my results with irrelevant sites or less relevant deep-links.

So, my problem is that unless you’re searching for those topics where a word can describe more significantly different topics (e.g. football), this feature won’t improve the search experience. To really make it personalized, this topic filtering feature has to be paired up with other determinants like regional (at least continental) filtering, age-based filtering, etc. Even a feature that lets you choose between “general resources”, “service providers” or something like that would increase this particular search experience much more than topic based filtering.

Also, in my previous entries on the topic, i brainstormed that topical personalization would ideally work through Google learning the user’s interests through their queries and clicks. This is another major fault of this current personalization tool: it requires initial user input. The fact that the profile cookie can be so easily deleted means that even if someone takes the time and effort to create the profile, their data will be very vulnerable. Add to that: the profile options are very very restricted (just about 100 broad, general topics).

So, my final verdict is: this is a nice feature, can be useful in some cases, but overall it’s not the kind of personalization that we should be too excited about. Certainly not like something i talked about in my previous entry on the topic. I am looking forward to the real personalized search, whoever comes to market with it first (maybe it will be Yahoo? they are my best bet for it because they have the user data to base it on).

[April 2: edited to add:]
Now that Google is launching their mail service (see next entry) they will be in the position to have the user data and user registration to enable learning based personlization by integrating their search service with their email service. It will be interesting to see if they do that.

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