Friday, February 9, 2007

Personalized search is starting to freak me out

Remember how, in my naïveté, I was all excited about This American Life being the #1 search result for the query [this]? Well, I've been grokking the concept of personalized search a bit more fully since then, and have come to two realizations:

  1. Since I've had Google personalized search enabled for some time, that may have just been my personalized result, and may not reproduce in the 'generic' index, or in your personalized search results.
  2. Personalized search is starting to freak me out.

I know that personalization seems like the inevitable way to reach that end goal of The Ultimate Search Experience: when you enter [dolphins], the algorithm simply knows whether you want information on dolphins, or the Miami Dolphins, or somewhere to buy stuffed dolphin collectibles. But when I enter some fairly generic search query and get back a bunch of obscure roller derby results (this happened recently), well, it's kind of creepy at the same time as it's satisfying. A lot of people have been making Big Brother references when discussing this topic, so I'll refrain from doing so since it's already been said.

However, there have only been a handful of search results that were good enough to make me take notice and think, That's weird...; so how many dozens and dozens have I not noticed, because they just made sense?

(The other big buzz around this feature is that it's throwing some SEO folks into a tizzy, because now there isn't just one giant Search Results Ranking that you must optimize your site for, there are potentially millions of personalized search results that may rank your site completely differently... But that's a topic for another day.)

1 comment:

Steve said...

This reminds me of the story about the guy with a Tivo. Tivos record what you ask for and if there is space and time left over, what it thinks you'd like.

For this guy, it was recording "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and "Will and Grace". He was freaked out because the Tivo thought he was gay.

FWIW, "this" gets me the the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - Google thinks I'm an atheist.