Thursday, March 24, 2005

Personalized search at PC Forum

Dan Farber at ZDNet reports on the search panel at PC Forum. Some excerpts on personalized search:
    Google's [Marissa] Mayer is looking at providing more personalization capabilities. "We don't know how to do [personalization] well, so we are starting with baby steps, such as knowing where you are as a context."

    "We need to get better not at doing searches, but at providing answers people are looking for, " [said Marissa.] "There will be a day when ten HTML links regardless of who you are is not the answer any more." She also said that the idea of everybody getting the same search result isn't reasonable.

    Mayer [said] that Google's goal isn't to force users to have to think about search ... One of the Google principles is that it your "mother" can't figure out how to use a feature, it shouldn't be released.
Google has it exactly right. Personalization is hard. Figuring out how to do it well isn't obvious or easy. But it has to be done to get further improvements in relevance rank. It has to be done to help people find what they need.

Udi Manber (CEO, A9) appears to have a different view. Udi is quoted as saying, "People will learn to use search better but have to invest the thinking -- we are not in the mind reading business."

I disagree. Searchers will not do extra work unless they see immediate, extraordinary, and obvious results from doing more work.

People are lazy, appropriately so. If you need to read minds to prevent them from having to do work, well then you better read minds. They'll think it's your fault, not theirs, if you don't give them what they need.

Dan ends his article with this prediction:
    The last five years of search history was more about monetization and continuity than delivering more relevance and personalization ... The next five years might yield more in the way of personalized answers.
[ZDNet article via Gary Price]

Update: Turns out the transcript for this talk is available as a PDF file after free registration on the site. Interesting reading. [via Paul Kedrosky]

Update: Four years later, Udi Manber (now at Google) appears to have changed his mind, saying, for example, that if users can't spell or don't know how to search, it is Google's problem.

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