Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Web search gets personal

A search on internet is only as good as its ability to get you what you want. It’s no good, if you are looking for info on the storm that hit Puducherry last month, and you get websites of US retail group Thane. Mercifully, it’s not so bad -- engineers have vested enough intelligence on search engines so that we get results that match what we are looking for. By the way, Thane is not just in Maharashtra, it’s also in Queensland, Australia.

Earlier, search engines focused on speed. Now efforts are on to provide highly customized results. Google has been able to do this to a great extent with Social Search, and now with Search, Plus Your World.

You get customized results by searching after logging in to Google. On the left of the page, click on “More Search Tools”, under “All Results”. If you are logged in, you will see a link “Social”. Clicking that, will get you specific results from your social circles. For example, it could be sites shared on your Google Plus, or blogs you are subscribed to in Google Reader, or photos shared with you by your friends,

Matt Cutts, a specialist in search optimization in Google, elaborated on the benefits. For example, if you are looking for a particular hotel, social search will show up references to it in the websites of your social connections. Search results from your social circles are always more relevant and dependable than results thrown up at random.  

“Search, Plus Your World, takes Social Search to a new level, wherein you find more specific results from your social circles,” said Cutts. Besides updates from blogs, Twitter, Facebook etc of your friends linked to your profile, you see profiles of people. Once a profile has been selected, you will see results that Google thinks may relate to the selected profile.

The customization is also done based on web history. If you have been searching for Thane city rather than cyclone, Google will throw up suitable results. Web history will also help you locate a website you saw a month back, but you forgot. At google,com/history, you can pause web history or remove individual sites, or even turn it off altogether.

Matt stressed that Google takes privacy issues very seriously, and that there is nothing scary about the new policy, “We will do nothing to erode the trust people have in us. Only content that has been made available publicly will show up in random search. When logged in, you see only data shared with you. Conversely, data you have kept private, will not show up anywhere. And, data that you have shared with specific people will be visible only to them.”

(This article appeared in the Wireless World column of The Times of India, Bangalore, today)

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