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November 20, 2008

Google SearchWiki Launched

As anticipated last month, Google's experiment that lets you reorder and annotate search results is now live. Google SearchWiki should be available automatically if you are logged in to a Google account and it can be recognized by the visual clutter added to the search results.

Next to each result, you should see three new options: a way to promote a web page at the top of the results, an option to remove results from the page (they're still visible at the bottom of the page) and a feature that lets you share public comments about a result. After promoting a result, Google shows some unnecessary information about the other people who promoted the result.


It's important to remember that all the changes are saved to your Google account and they won't affect the search results for everyone, at least not directly. If you want to see an aggregation of all promotions, demotions and comments, go to the bottom of the page and click on "See all notes for this SearchWiki". This is the real wiki built by Google and it's easy to access by adding &swm=2 to the URL of a search results page: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=google&swm=2.


Comments are not very useful, although you could find insights for some obscure queries. The absolute number of people who promoted a search result is not very useful either, especially when you'll see big numbers like 314,159,265.

SearchWiki's main idea is to give users the opportunity to manually customize the search results and make them more predictable. Since many people repeat common searches like [mail], [weather], [news] and Google's results are constantly changing, it's nice to pick your favorite results and display them at the top. If you can't find a site you like, click on "Add a result" and manually add a page in the list of top results.



Good things about SearchWiki:
- you can now adjust Google's results for your typical queries and save time when repeating the searches
- use Google instead of bookmarking web pages
- for unfamiliar queries, check the wiki to find a different ranking and potentially useful comments. Try to avoid the wiki for queries that are likely to be spammed.

Bad things about SearchWiki:
- visual clutter. The only way to remove the additional icons displayed next to each search result is to log out.
- your changes are available only when you repeat the query and, in some cases, for similar queries (e.g.: [google.com] in addition to [google]). That means you can't remove a web page or a domain from all search results
- comments are public and there's no option to write private notes (Google removed the option to annotate results in Google Notebook)
- an obvious feature would be to get a permalink for your edited results, but Google doesn't offer this yet
- there's no option to toggle between your edited results and the standard results (you'll have to log out)
- it's difficult to reorder results, since the only action allowed is to place a web page at the top, after all the other promoted pages. If you promote the page again, it will become the first result.


Google has always used people's clicks to improve the quality of search results, so the new options could influence the ranking algorithms in different ways. "At this time we aren't using SearchWiki to influence ranking but it is easy to see how that could happen in the future," said Marissa Mayer. "Search is adapting to the Internet as it becomes a more participatory medium. Now you have people telling us specific things about how they'd like to see their search results. You could imagine if we do see a particular site (about which) people have a unanimous opinion, that might trigger external things. Like maybe we should check out our spam control," suggested Cedric Dupont, product manager for SearchWiki and Google Knol.

This blog is not affiliated with Google.