Google tests 'personalized' search

Google is offering a new service that tailors a user's query results based on the user's previous searches, the company announced Tuesday.

The free service, called Personalized Search, is in an early test phase. Users can sign up for it by going to http://www.google.com/psearch. Users who don't have a Google account will be asked to create one, which is free and only requires an e-mail address and a password.

Links on the upper right hand corner of Google's main search page will indicate if the Personalized Search feature is activated and give users the option of signing out of the service or even removing themselves permanently from it.

Personalized Search includes a search history feature that lets users review their search activity and adds usage information to Google search results, such as the number of times the user has visited a particular page.

"This is a big breakthrough," said Allen Weiner, a Gartner analyst.

Search engine providers have reached a plateau in terms of the degree of relevance they can deliver on general Web search queries, Weiner said.

"There's only so much you can do in terms of indexing and spidering and page ranking," he said. "It was inevitable someone would go down this path."

The only way for search engines to make results more relevant is to track users' search histories and factor them into the overall search results calculation, which is what Google is doing with this service, Weiner said.

That way, when a user interested in Eastern Europe enters the search term "polish," Google will deliver results about Poland ahead of results about shoe polish, he said.

Of course, this approach is also controversial because it involves tracking people's search activities, but ultimately it is a password-protected, opt-in service for users who are seeking more precise results, Weiner said.

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