Search, personalization & privacy

I just finished reading an interesting article about search and personalization written by Gord Hotchkiss.

Which got me thinking about search and personalization, and specifically about privacy.

First on search and personalization, I think the article put it very succinctly:

Personalization, in its simplest form, is simply knowing more about you as an individual and using that knowledge to better connect you to content and functionality on the Web.

Which tells us that the more you know about a person, the more you can personalize search results to match what they are looking for.

The articles goes on to say:

We’re trying to paint personalization into a corner based on Google’s current implementation of it. And that’s absolutely the wrong thing to do. Personalization is not a currently implemented algorithm, or even some future version of the same algorithm. It’s is an area of development that will encompass many new technologies, some of which are under development right now in some corner of Google’s labs.

I think this makes two very important points.

The first is that current personalization implementations are pretty poor, I don’t think many people would disagree that they have been pretty disappointing to date.

The second is that personalization will get better over time, but that two things will need to happen, one technological and the other social. On the technology side, new personalization implementations will have to pull in research from other areas, one obvious one is data mining and there are plenty of others. On the social side, we as users will have to get much more comfortable sharing data about ourselves with whatever personalization tools are created. Currently we share very little data, namely short searches, pages viewed and search history. For any system to be truely personalized, we are going to have to share a more data than that, a lot more.

And this is where things will get interesting, there will be usual outcry about privacy, but consumers have shown themselves again and again to be willing to part with privacy in return for convenience.

So the onus is on these new personalization technologies to really deliver.

Updated, of course I should have linked to Sepandar Kamvar who is the technical lead of personalization at Google.


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