Google Bares Its Search Engine Semantics

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-07-31 Print this article Print


Regularly rapped for keeping details about its algorithms hush-hush, Google continues to slowly peel back its complex search onion.

The latest is a new feature in Google search that lets users grasp how their search results are customized. Soon, users will be able to see how Google customizes their results by location, recent searches and Web history.

This is some interesting disclosure on Google's march toward the semantic Web, where the search algorithm better divines what we're looking for by leveraging additional information about us.

To be clear, this isn't the Semantic Web in the Tim Berners-Lee sense, with the metadata and tags, but conceptually Google is thinking along those lines.

We've always kind of known Google was eerily accurate with some of our search results, but now we know a bit more on how they do it.

The company will start posting messages about how searches are customized in the top right-hand corner of search results pages.

Clicking on the "more details" tab will show users whether the search results were customized based on location, previous searches and, if a user is signed into their Google account, his or her Web history. You can also see how the results would look if Google didn't use its customization criteria.

As the location customization implies, Google by default lists your approximate city location based on your computer's IP address and uses it to customize search results.

But if you want Google to use a different location, you can sign into or create a Google Account and provide a city or street address. Google will also use the offered specific locations to boost Google Maps results. Presumably, Google will return to you more useful maps based on your location information.

This technique doesn't bother me, but I can see plenty of people who previously turned a blind eye getting upset that Google is admittedly leveraging their location information, even if it is something relatively harmless as customizing search results.

They may think that not only does Google have all this information about them -- location plus preferences based on previous searches -- but now it's rubbing their noses in it. My advice to those people, who likely bang the privacy drum, is to get over it or use something else. Like Cuil.

Google is also using recent search history to "take into account whether a particular query followed on the heels of another query."

Recent searches can provide context for understanding the semantics, or the meaning, behind a user's searches, so Google uses it to customize our results "whenever possible, regardless of whether you're signed in or signed out."

And, in another move that is sure to get privacy advocates' juices flowing, Google keeps the most recent query on your browser for a limited time. After that, the information is removed from your browser and disappears immediately if you close your browser.

Or so Google says. Again, I can see privacy buffs questioning Google on this one.

Moreover, if you're signed in and have the Web history option enabled, Google can customize search results based on what you've searched for in the past on Google, as well as what Web sites you've visited. Users can remove specific Web history items or nix the service at their leisure.


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