Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Jim Lanzone and Steve Berkowitz at Web 2.0 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]


Anonymous said...

Why do you think personalized search will be such a big deal? I do about 10 searches per day, and I pretty much find what I'm looking for in the first few links of every one of them. Maybe once a week I have to re-query several times or look pretty hard to find what I want. That's usually when I'm searching something obscure and unusual for me. How are personalized results supposed to help here? Seems like a red herring to me.

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Anonymous. Are you saying search is good enough? You always find what you want quickly and easily? I don't think that is the typical experience with search.

Most people in the industry consider search to still be in its infancy. For example, Bill Gates said, "Search is really crummy today -- it's just that it used to be really crummy, and now it's better, and there never was anything like this before. So most of the results people get back today are irrelevant results." Larry Page said, "People always make the assumption that we're done with search. That's very far from the case. We're probably only 5 per cent of the way there. We want to create the ultimate search engine that can understand anything ... some people could call that artificial intelligence."

If you want a more formal article on the potential for personalization to improve the quality of search results, I can recommend "Beyond the commons: On the value of personalizing Web search" (PDF). It's a good read. If you are interested, I have a writeup of the article here.

Anonymous said...

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What's your job?
by the way, please leave me a comment to which I asked you before about 'bigtable'.

Unknown said...

I agree that personalization is important and shouldn't be ignored. But Jim Lanzone evidently called Google the "Model T of search" during the same session, so this interview may have been more about sound bites than substance.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, it's not that they hadn't thought of it, maybe it's that they are purposely more silent about it?