Personalize Your Google Search

    May 9, 2005

When you search with Google, it sees you as any other Google user. It has no idea what your interests are. Therefore, for the same search words Google will deliver the same results to you and everyone else in the world searching with the same language and country selections.

But, what if I told you that Google can provide search results based on your interests? Are you a sports fan, a technology enthusiast, a gourmet chef? You can make sure Google knows this and have it tailor your search accordingly. Many words can have many meanings and if Google knows your interests it can give more emphasis to pages that are more likely to work for you.

No, Google is not a mind reader; you have to tell it what your interests are. And you have to use a different Google search page that is in beta in the Google Labs. It’s called Google Personalized Search. To check it out, open up a Google Personalized browser window by clicking this link.

Google Personalized

You can see it is a very basic search page, plus a link that says Edit Profile. Once you use the Edit Profile page to establish your interests, you then come back to this page to perform your personalized searches. The profile will not affect any other Google searches (you do not need a Google account to create a profile; all information is stored in a cookie). Click the Edit Profile link to see the page.

You will see the categories list on the left, and your profile (if you have one yet) on the right. Clicking on any of the categories will explode it into subcategories. Some subcategories explode another level further.

Google Personalized Categories

You then use your mouse to click the boxes of the categories that interest you. As you do this, your profile is built to the right. When you are finished, your profile will show all the subcategories that you have selected. If you change you mind about something, you can delete it from the profile, or use the option to clear the entire profile. You can also at any time go back into the subcategories and uncheck them from there, or check new subcategories to add to your profile.

After you’ve built your profile you are ready to perform your first personalized search. Key in any search term and see what you get. Notice that interesting slider in the top left? It looks like this:

Google Personalized Slider

The slider defaults the last personalization setting you used. The search results with the slider all the way left (min personalization) are the same as they would be with a regular Google search. You can move the amount of personalization by moving the slider with you mouse. As you move the slider to the right, towards max personalization, Google recalculates and rearranges the results to become more and more focused on your interests.

As you are doing this, some results will show up with a icon to their left. These are the results that Google thought were more relevant to your search, based on the interests you entered in your profile. As you move the slider to the right to increase the degree of personalization, these results move closer to the top.

How does all this work? Heck if I know. But if you are interested in some technical guesswork on the subject, I found a very interesting page on the University of San Francisco’s web site. Here I also learned something interesting about development of the project. It says that it’s based on technology developed at Stanford’s WebBase Project by three students named Sepandar Kamvar, Taher Haveliwala and Glen Jeh. After publishing several papers on improving PageRank Personalization the threesome started Kaltix, a stealth start-up that was bought by Google some three months after securing initial funding. There are links to more of the history on this, and some relevant research papers.

So, is Google’s Personalized search a useful tool, or a fun toy? I haven’t decided yet. I read through many comments on the web and it seems to be a split decision. But, maybe a poster on a web site I read said it best with this comment:

“The slider bar was groovy and I look forward to greater test driving.”

Mark Fleming is the founder of a new blog called Google Tutor & Advisor. Google Tutor & Advisor offers in-depth Tips, Techniques and Advice for Google Users.

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