Saturday, June 09, 2007

Personalization will not replace search

Yahoo VP Tapan Bhat recently spoke at the Next Web conference and apparently said:
Search is no longer the dominant paradigm.

The future of the web is about personalisation. Where search was dominant, now the web is about 'me.' It's about weaving the web together in a way that is smart and personalised for the user.
Personalization can help people discover information they would not find on their own, but it is important not to overstate the impact.

Especially in the context Tapan is discussing -- Tapan leads the team running the Yahoo home page -- discovery is important. People need help navigating Yahoo and finding new content on Yahoo. A Yahoo home page that learns from what you do on Yahoo and helps you get what you need faster would be helpful.

But personalization does not replace search. For people who know what they want, the best thing we can do is get out of the way. When people are actively and explicitly searching, when they are on a mission, it is not the time to distract them.

At Amazon, the majority of people came to the home page, then searched. For those people, we mostly got out of their way, showing them search results and some helpful other information strongly related to their search. However, another group of people came to Amazon without such a sense of purpose. For these people, the personalization was key, helping tailor the home page to focus their attention on a selection of Amazon's massive catalog based on their past interests, a view into Amazon created just for them.

Even if search remains dominant, even if we mostly want to get out of the way when people actively search, personalization can still help. Many times, searchers cannot find what they want when they search. They need help expressing their intent. The search engine needs additional information to understand their intent. By learning from what each person and others have done and found, personalization can help better understand intent and help people get what they need faster.

But, in any case, personalization does not mean search is going away. People often know what they want and want it now. In those cases, we should give it to them. Search is and will remain dominant.

On a somewhat different topic, as the Times UK article describes, many interpreted Tapan's words as Yahoo giving up on core search. I do not have much to add to that, but I do want to point out that this is not the first time a high level Yahoo executive has demonstrated a lack of competitive fire for core search.


leafar said...

it was a great presentation on new development at yahoo. people hear what they want. But it was mainly focused on saying their are new ways and Yahoo is exploring them. By the way it was also said that users wanted both, so yahoo acknowledge it.

it was for me one of the best presentation (maybe lacking some data) on the next web and honestly exactly on the topic of teh conference.

I didn't find the slides. ;-(

mike love said...

"When people are actively and explicitly searching, when they are on a mission, it is not the time to distract them."

I'm glad to read this, as I definitely agree. Often I hear people working on personalization not mention at all their strategy for when a user wants to move out of the sphere of familiar territory.