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March 6, 2007

Web History, the Next Step in Personalized Search?

"With infinite storage, we can house all user files, including: emails, web history, pictures, bookmarks, etc and make it accessible from anywhere (any device, any platform, etc)." (From a Google presentation)

Google's plans for using personalization to improve search results could face some difficulties. Google already uses your queries, the results you click on, your bookmarks, but this isn't enough to build a comprehensive profile. People don't search too many times and, most often, they click on the top search results.

So I think the next step in Google's efforts to tailor the search results to your preferences is to expand the search history into something more complex: the web history. Browsing web pages is an important part of your online activity and there are already applications like Google Desktop that monitor and index the visited web pages.

A web history service could be easily implemented in the toolbar. If you enable PageRank in Google Toolbar, you send each page you visit to Google, but they are logged anonymously. Now these web pages would be connected to a Google account. Unlike the solution implemented in Google Desktop, this service would use the information from Google's index and wouldn't need local storage. It would also extend the history feature from most browsers, which is severely limited in time.

You'll be able to tell if you visited a page in the past, how many times and what was the context. Some clever algorithms could extract patterns and could recommend you similar pages you wouldn't have discovered otherwise.

Of course, a such a service would cause a big debate regarding privacy and trust, so it will be disabled by default.

Google says in a patent application filed last year: "Search engines typically provide a source of indexed documents from the Internet (or an intranet) that can be rapidly scanned in response to a search query submitted by a user. As the number of documents accessible via the Internet grows, the number of documents that match a particular query may also increase. However, not every document matching the query is likely to be equally important from the user's perspective. (...) Over time, a user will have executed a history of search queries, results which were examined, advertisements that were clicked on, and other various browsing activities which reflect the user's preferences and interests. Oftentimes a user may be interested in examining the user's such prior activities. It would be desirable to permit the user to use the prior activities to enhance the user's searching and browsing experience."


  1. What do I think?

    I think that this is the understatement of the week:

    "Of course, a such a service would cause a big debate regarding privacy and trust, so it will be disabled by default."

    Ya think?

    So, what do I think? Actually, it's pretty scary. :-)

    - ferg

  2. I don't think it's all that scary at all. I hope Google hurries up with something like this, as I still find myself wishing I could remember "where I read that a few days ago". A Google history would be well awesome.

    I really can't see a privacy issue either. Our ISPs know everything we browse as well, but no one stops to think about that, or worries they could use it against us. As long as google stores my info securely, and lets me send it to them safely, I don't see what the difference is between them and anyone else - and if they can make my experience easier or faster, then more power to them I say.

  3. Google is getting more and more evil. They try to lock you in at Gmail by not offering Imap or another way to export all your (sent) mail. The same goes for Calendar and Bookmarks: No way to export anything.

    Going Google is a one-way street and I don't see myself on this street for many more years. They'd have me by the nuts then.

    I already moved my bookmarks to For Mail and Calendar I'll probably get a hosted Exchange box (for versatibility). Docs & Spreadsheets will get covered by a future Microsoft online product or Zoho.

  4. Well, not true.

    You can export your mail -> use POP3 (you'll be able to export sent mail too).

    You can export your calendar -> save the calendar as iCal, a format that works with many applications, including Outlook.

    You can export your bookmarks as a feed, but there's a nice Firefox extension that saves your bookmarks in a html file that can be easily imported in your browser.

  5. I just wanted to mention that I'm not a fan of these speculative posts, so I'm going to switch to reading Google Blogoscoped instead of Google OS as it appears to focus more on announcements instead of attempting what might come down the line. I just thought I'd provide that as feedback, if you're interested.

  6. Good for you, Joshua. Google Blogoscoped is an excellent blog, and I try to reduce the amount of duplication between my blog and Philipp Lenssen's blog.

    Regarding the web history, this might seem a speculation, but it's not. You'll see.

  7. I think Google will be the next company everyone will love to hate...if they do nor watch it.

    Greed is a terrible, but powerful motivation. They are getting a little scary with the recent purchase of DoubleClick. I think they will eventually force some sort of regulation, which also is unfortunate.

  8. If I put my phone number or name into google search engine every single ad or site I went to is there. How do I delete all this personal information?