Jim argued that personalization doesn't work and then tried to contrast it with something he called "collective search". Some excerpts:
Ask.com ... aims to tap the collective search habits of its 50 million users to improve the relevancy of Web search.If I could quote from my favorite movie, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
[Jim Lanzone] said attempts at automated personalization often fail in practice to give users what they want.
Instead, Web search can be improved by understanding the aggregate behavior of different types of users.
This collective approach means users stand to benefit from what users with similar interests have gleaned from previous searches.
"Collective search is something that Ask really believes in," Lanzone said, adding that personalizing what different users see is only a small piece of further improving search.
I admit the term personalization may be poorly defined these days, but it is hard for me to see the distinction between personalized search and changing the search results based on "what users with similar interests have gleaned from previous searches."
In fact, I would think that is the very definition of personalization. Personalization changes what people see based on their past behavior and the past behavior of others.
Perhaps the distinction here is that collective search may change results even for people who have no history? For example, popular search results may get a higher ranking or search results that appear to be related after analyzing what people click on may be handled differently?
Yet even that often still is referred to as personalization. For example, one of Amazon.com's most successful and useful personalization features is similarities ("Customers who bought X also bought"). That feature is targeted to a specific page, not to a user's history, but is still personalization.
Am I missing something more here? Is Jim suggesting collective search includes something that personalization does not? For example, does collective search include explicit sharing of search results across a social network (like Yahoo's struggling MyWeb)? Or something else?
For more details on Jim's interview, see also Tamar Weinberg's notes over at Search Engine Roundtable.