Thursday, May 24, 2007

Personalization the most important part of Google's expansion

Caroline Daniel and Maija Palmer at the Financial Times quote Google CEO Eric Schmidt talking about personalization:
Eric Schmidt ... said gathering more personal data was a key way for Google to expand and the company believes that is the logical extension of its stated mission to organise the world's information.

Asked how Google might look in five years' time, Mr Schmidt said: "We are very early in the total information we have within Google. The algorithms will get better and we will get better at personalisation."

"The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and 'What job shall I take?'"

The race to accumulate the most comprehensive database of individual information has become the new battleground for search engines as it will allow the industry to offer far more personalised advertisements. These are the holy grail for the search industry, as such advertising would command higher rates.

Schmidt ... [said]: "We cannot even answer the most basic questions because we don't know enough about you. That is the most important aspect of Google's expansion."

Google personalised search ... [uses] what [searchers] have searched and clicked on ... to create more personalised search results for them.

Another service under development is Google Recommendations – where the search suggests products and services the user might like, based on their already established preferences.
Some of Eric's words may have been poorly chosen -- "total information" and "we don't know enough about you" are phrases that play into fears of an intrusive Google overlord -- but I think Eric's goal really is noble, to use personalization to help people find the information they need.

By learning from people's past behavior, Google can disambiguate their intent. Different people will see different information based on their needs and preferences. Like the good friend that sends you links that might interest you, Google will adapt to you and help you find what you need.

Even for advertising, personalization can be helpful, targeted efforts to help you find products and services you might actually like rather than spamming mass audiences with annoying and irrelevant crap. As Eric said back in Oct 2005, "Advertising should be interesting, relevant and useful to users."

See also my Nov 2005 post, "Is personalized advertising evil?".

For more on personalized search, some of my previous posts, especially "Personalization is hard. So what?", " Personalization, intent, and interest", and "Personalized search yields dramatically better search results", may be of interest.


Anonymous said...

I didn't like it when my government had a program called "total information awareness." I like it even less when google does it; they'll be better at it.

Personalization is great and all, but I survived this long without a computer suggesting my breakfast based on knowing my last three meals. It seems like a faustian pact with insufficent reward for the risk.

Anonymous said...

Erics goals might be noble, but when the data once are collected, nobody knows who will have access to that data in the future.
It’s surprising that everybody seems to agree, that for personalisation private data have to be transferred to a centralized server.

There are other ways. E.g. FAROO, a peer-to-peer web search engine, protecting privacy by serving as distributed anonymizer does client side personalisation.
So you can have both at the same time: privacy AND personalisation.

Remains the question, why Google is not using such kind of less intrusive personalization.