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Personalizing Google: Read/WriteWeb Files

This week we’re opening a file on Google’s efforts towards personalization, a trend that has become very apparent in Google over the past year. As we did with Yahoo last week, we’ll publish a number of feature articles looking at how Google is implementing personalization into its products – and how it effects you, the user.

We mentioned in our Half-Year Web Technology Report that Google has impressed so far in 2007, on both the acquisition front and building up its own technology. Equally impressive is that Google is not sitting back and letting the hundreds of alternative search engines overtake them in technology. Often incumbent tech companies are content to sit on their market position and so they don’t innovate much further. However Google has busily been experimenting with, and implementing into its main search properties, new types of personalization.

In January we ran a
asking which “Search 2.0” approaches stood the best chance of beating Google. Personalized Search was the option that got the most votes. Also our interview with Google’s Matt Cutts revealed that Google has been experimenting with
personalization a lot over the past year or so.

And while there is no shortage of Google competitors doing personalization – indeed just last week Marcos Marado wrote a guest post on AltSearchEngines on this topic – Google is also developing its own personalization solutions…

Google Accounts Personalized

Back in February we noted that Google was ramping up its
personalization efforts via Google Accounts. When you’re signed in to Google Accounts, said the Google blog, you’ll “have access to
a personalized Google – one that combines personalized search results and a personalized
homepage.” Matt Cutts mentioned it in a post too and linked to external analysis on the personalization theme.

I had noticed it earlier, via Google Accounts. I’d spotted the following
in the Google Accounts Help:

What does it mean for Google to be more personalized with Google Accounts?

When you’re signed in to Google Accounts, you’ll now get more relevant, useful search
results, recommendations and other personalized features. For example, if you use Google
Bookmarks or Google Search History, you’ll get more targeted web search results and
recommendations for videos or gadgets.”

So at that point Google was beginning to integrate its various personalization efforts more. Currently when you go to the Google Accounts frontpage, you are told that you can “customize pages, view recommendations, and get more relevant search results” when you login.

iGoogle, Localization, Gadget Maker

In May there was a Google Personalization Workshop, which gave more details of Google’s push into personalization.

In the workshop the new name for Google Personalized
Homepage was revealed – iGoogle. Also shown off at the workshop was Gadget Maker, location-based personalized search results and a “My
Community” service for the iGoogle directory.

In regards to its personalized homepage, Google has
always had far more gadgets available on its platform than live.com, Netvibes or
Pageflakes. As of May there were over 25,000 different Google gadgets. Also according to Jessica Ewing at the May event, product manager
of the Google Personalized Homepage program, iGoogle was the fastest growing product at
Google in 2006.

Some useful background to Google’s personalization efforts, from a Google Blogoscoped post in May:

“Why does Google invest in a “personal Google” now? Sep [Kamvar, from
Google] says it’s because of recent trends in content on the web, and recent
technological advances in search algorithms. He suggests that Google wants to compute
PageRank for every single person, so to speak. Sep explains that Google thinks of
personalization in 3 parts:

  • Search Your own stuff (like Google Desktop Search, Web History)
  • Traditional (Pull) Search
  • Push Search (like recommendations, iGoogle/ personalized

Privacy Concerns?

Google goes out of its way to ensure that the user
is still “in charge” of the personalization experience, no doubt to keep the privacy
hounds at bay. Apart from needing to be logged into your Google Account, Google also
makes personalization optional – including giving the user the ability to pause the Web
History feature or remove specific items from the history. Users can also export their
Web History as an RSS feed, which is important given that the ability to export one’s
data has long been a key issue for ‘open Web’ advocates.

We’ll take a closer look at privacy issues in one of our feature posts this week.


Google seems to be fighting a two-pronged battle with their personalization efforts –
one is to keep themselves ahead of the alt search engine pack, and the other is to one-up
Yahoo, Microsoft, Netvibes, Pageflakes and the other personalized start page contenders.

I still
think Google has much to do in terms of innovation in search personalization – take a
look at Collarity or Hakia as just two examples of alt search engines with
innovative personalization approaches. But the Google Account (which is where much of
this personalization in Google products is coming from) and the new iGoogle features show
that Google is pushing forward in search innovation – certainly they are not resting on
their considerable laurels!

Over the next 5 days we’ll investigate Google’s personalization efforts more. I hope you enjoy the Read/WriteWeb Files this week!

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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