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Personalized Search

A personalized search reaches beyond the user’s initial query by incorporating information gleaned from his digital history of interests. There are at least two ways in which personalized search can be delivered: modifying the search query, and re-ranking the search results.

The search engines of yore catered to all users in the same way. Not so today. The search engine learns about the user profile from the individual’s search history. This profile is then mapped to a set of categories that the search engine accesses to make sense of the query. In effect, the search engine disambiguates keywords in order to serve up what the searcher is actually looking for. With this level of personalization, search engines provide different results for different searchers.

Google first introduced personalized search in 2004 and began actively implementing it in 2005 in the Google search results. Various factors come into play when personalizing a user’s search results, like the location of the user, the search language and the user web history.

Search engines today want to reach beyond what you type in the search box. They seek to understand what your intent might be in order to give you exactly what you want. Or, what they think you want. To do this they use information you have provided, either wittingly or unwittingly, to create user profiles, or personas. The search engine then utilizes the persona to target information in a way that best serves your perceived interest.

The more often you visit a certain web page, the more Google believes that you like that page. Your behavior is duly noted and used to optimize future search results. The next time you search, a page which you have been previously visiting with regularity is likely to be shown more prominently. Herein lays both advantages and disadvantages of just such a likelihood.

Finding new information becomes a major disadvantage of personalized search. You will be repeatedly shown the same results because that is what you always click on. It’s in your history. This naturally narrows your information exploration on the web. The problem is called ‘filter bubble’ and it means that people are letting search engines decide what the users want to see and what they don’t want to see. In the extreme case the user becomes confined to his own ‘filter bubble’ and is cordoned off from the rest of the information out there on the Internet.

Extrapolate this to a community level, and the consequences become troubling. As certain search results are bumped up and more and more people view them, the favored results become more prominent, and the ones not so favored are removed from the listed search results. When this happens collectively the society as a whole will likely have a skewed perspective of a particular topic. It gets Orwellian without much effort. He who controls the search engine controls information.

Google uses Google News to personalize your search. The first few results for a specific news query would likely be the same to all viewers. But as you scroll down, the results begin to differ. Google takes your past searches into account and your location and gives you local news that may matter more to you. This could be useful. But the potential disadvantage is missing what may be important news from farther afield.

The average person’s attention span is 8 seconds, so personalized search helps to quickly sift through the blocks of data that search engines throw up. Personalization saves time and significantly improves the quality of the search. It can also help search engines display highly targeted (“personalized”) advertising — the best deals, offers and discounts, depending on an individual’s interests – the idea being that the consumer finds what he is looking for faster and with all the relevant information displayed more prominently.

Contact us to deploy personalized advertising campaigns!

Team Position2

February 4, 2015

By Team Position2