Friday, August 17, 2007

Interviews on search in 2010

Gord Hotchkiss at Search Engine Land compiled an impressive group of interviews for his article, "Search In The Year 2010". He talked to usability guru Jakob Nielsen, Googler Marissa Mayer, Larry Cornett from Yahoo, Justin Osmer from Microsoft, Michael Ferguson from Ask, and search industry experts Chris Sherman, Greg Sterling, and Danny Sullivan.

From the introduction:
It was with a great deal of anticipation that I threw in front of them the same question: what will the search results page look like in 2010?

Here, aggregated and condensed, are their answers.
Go read the whole thing, but, as usual, I am going to focus here on the part on personalized search.

Chris Sherman, Jakob Nielsen, and Greg Sterling are skeptical about personalization. Personalization "is incredibly hard to do" because "language is so inherently ambiguous" and "you have to guess", not to mention "the so called creep factor."

Danny Sullivan, Justin Osmer, Michael Ferguson, and Larry Cornett are more optimistic. "We're getting close to a tipping point on personalization" where little or no effort ("a very low investment") yields "a lot of return" because searchers will "get a lot more out of [the] search experience" if the search engine knows more about them. Searchers "clicks and their footsteps will walk to the experience that is most delightful and easy for them to use," though we should be careful not to "ask the users to do work." "Google is onto something with their personalized search results," and "people are misunderstanding how sophisticated it can be."

Oddly, Marissa Mayer did not say much on personalized search this time around. In the past, she has said ([1] [2] [3]) that "[personalization is] one of the biggest relevance advances in the past few years", "personalized search is something that holds a lot of promise", and personalization is key for building "the search engine of the future."

Similar to what Esther Dyson said in her interview with Charlie Rose, Chris Sherman agrees with Gord Hotchkiss that "Google is holding a significant portion ... of their personalization algorithm in reserve" because there is "caution" that they might "alienate the searcher." Chris goes on to say, "They probably have tons of stuff that they're not showing us."

On personalization being incredibly hard to do, please also see my March 2005 post, "Personalization is hard. So what?"


Anonymous said...

And what do you believe about the rest of what was said? Are we near a "tipping point" where minimal effort will produce maximal relevance gains (using the profile approach)?

And why, do you think, that there might be "caution" that Google could "alienate the searcher" with these approaches? The searcher already knows Google is logging his/her every move (esp thanks to the AOL thing a year ago). And so if the searcher suddenly starts seeing big relevance gains, how is that particularly alienating? If personalization really is doing such a good job, won't the searcher instead just say: "Wow, isn't Google fantastic! Better than ever!"

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Jeremy. No, I guess I don't see any evidence that we are near a tipping point. The industry seems to be at an earlier stage with personalization than that to me.

On alienating the searcher, I think the big worry there is some out of control PR nightmare on privacy, like Esther Dyson said in her Charlie Rose interview.

I think Google is right to be worried about that, not so much on the merits of the privacy concerns, but because Google's competitors would have much to gain by fanning the flames.