Ask.com CEO Jim Lanzone and Microsoft SVP Steve Berkowitz had an interview with John Battelle a couple hours ago here at the Web 2.0 Conference on "Beating Google at Their Own Game".
The most interesting part to me was near the end when there was a question from the audience asking for their thoughts on personalized search.
Both Jim and Steve's answers struck me as odd. Steve entirely focused on privacy issues. He argued for giving users detailed and complete control of their data. Steve claimed this was being customer-focused, but I felt he was focusing on entirely the wrong customer. Most customers do not want to spend time twiddling configuration settings for their data; they just want to find what they need. Customer-focus for personalized search should mean helping people find and discover the information they need.
Jim also had an unusual focus, saying that "users don't customize", "users are lazy", and "the majority of people won't do it." The questioner followed up at this point, asking about implicit personalization of search, which works from behavior and requires no effort. Both Jim and Steve indicated that they thought this was a good idea, but offered nothing more.
It is surprising to me that Jim and Steve seem to have not thought much about personalized search. I was expecting to hear something deeper from them on this topic.
Personalized search is a potential way to beat Google. Paying attention to what each searcher has done allows individualized relevance ranks and should yield more relevant search results. Whoever can crack this nut could win the search war.
Update: There is some broader coverage of this talk and Ray Ozzie's talk, all put in good context, by David Needle at InternetNews.
Update: Another article, this one by Dan Farber at ZDNet, with broader coverage of this talk. [via John Battelle]