Google service compiles users' search history

Google is launching a service Wednesday that logs users' queries and search results and creates a usage history.

Users who routinely can't find Web sites they previously located using Google's search engine are getting some help from the company.

To assist users in looking for previously found, but now misplaced, Web site links, Google will introduce on Wednesday a new service that logs users' Web search queries on www.google.com and the results they click on.

"Essentially we're letting you record searches you've done on Google for easy recall later," said Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer Web products.

To access the service, called My Search History, users need a Google account, which can be obtained for free at http://www.google.com/accounts by entering an e-mail address and a password.

Once users log in to the service at http://www.google.com/searchhistory/, all their queries and clicked-on search results are stored in a Google server.

Users can view their search history by date or they can search through it from a query box devoted for that purpose. The new service indexes the full text of all Web pages a user clicked on from the results page.

Users have the option of suspending the service to prevent it from recording certain searches or of eliminating it altogether. Users can also prune the history list by manually removing items from it.

Through its integration with www.google.com, the new service enhances the regular search engine experience. For example, search results served on www.google.com will feature additional information, such as the number of times the user has clicked on a particular search result. Also, search history results are featured atop the regular list of www.google.com results.

Within the My Search History interface, the service also can group search results that are topically related, so that users can see all results about "baseball" for example. Beyond matching keywords, this feature also recognizes synonyms, Mayer said.

The service also features a graphical calendar so users can view the searches they conducted on specific days.

Like so many Google services, this one is being launched with a beta tag, meaning that the company doesn't consider it a final product but rather one that is still in a test phase.

Because this is a server-based product, users can access it from any computer connected to the Internet, not just from their primary PC.

Search engine rival Ask Jeeves introduced a similar service last year called MyJeeves. Unlike the Google service, MyJeeves doesn't record all searches by default but rather relies on users actively hitting a "save" button next to a result to have it archived.

Another difference is that MyJeeves lets users categorize saved search results into folders, append comments to the results and share the results with other users via e-mail, features that Google's My Search History doesn't offer.

Google's My Search History only records Web searches done from www.google.com, not from other Google search services, such as Google Local, Froogle, Google News or Google Image Search.

Users need to enable Javascript in their browsers for My Search History to work. The service can be accessed from a variety of browsers, including Microsoft's Internet Explorer (version 4.0 and higher), America Online's Netscape (version 6.0 and higher), Apple Computer's Safari (version 1.2 and higher) and The Mozilla Foundation's Firefox and Mozilla.

Regarding privacy, a user's search history is password-protected to prevent unauthorized users from accessing it. On the backend, Google obviously is collecting usage information and tying it to the user's log on information, IP address, browser type, browser language and any cookies that uniquely identify the browser.

Google doesn't currently have plans to use the collected information to serve up ads to the users of this service, Mayer said. "We understand this data is very sensitive and we're going to treat it with the utmost integrity in terms of how it's used," she said.

There is quite a bit of overlap between this server-based service and Google's desktop search product, which is PC software for indexing the contents of a user's hard drive, including all Web pages called up in the user's browser. Thus, My Search History has been designed to yield to the desktop search tool in situations in which both would be serving up the same search result, Mayer said.

Although My Search History and the desktop search tool aren't very tightly integrated today, Google will probably build tighter links between them in the future, she said. "I think that makes logical sense. There are things My Search History does really well that desktop search should adopt and vice versa," Mayer said.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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