Sep Kamvar: Personalized Search is Subtle (But is it useful?)

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Read/Write Web has a nice interview with Google’ personalization guru Sep Kamvar.

In response to privacy questions, Sep emphasizes the amount of choice, transparency, and control in Google’s Web History (the richest source of personalized data)–though not in location acquisition (which is another key personalization input). Ultimately, however, Sep concedes that the effect of personalization on search rank is subtle and that users value having a diverse set of results rather than a narrow personalized set.

Sep points to an article in the Financial Times (by Google’s global privacy council, Peter Fleischer) that gives some compelling examples of how personalization can provide important context to disambiguate poorly or informally formulated search queries. I remain somewhat skeptical of the value of highly personalized search. The value is much harder to see with search (where someone is looking for something specific) than it is with news (where someone merely wants quality info-tainment).

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