- If someone prefers to search Google without personalization, add "&pws=0" (the "pws" stands for "personalized web search") to the end of the Google search url to turn it off, or use the incognito version of Chrome. Personalization tends to be a nice relevance improvement overall, but it doesn't trigger that much--when it launched, the impact was on the order of one search result above the fold for one in five search results.
- personalization has much less impact than localization, which takes things like your IP address into account when determining the best search results. You can change localization by going to country-specific versions of Google (e.g. search for [bank] on google.co.uk vs. google.co.nz), or on google.com you can click "change location" on the left sidebar to enter a different city or zip code in the U.S.
- We do have algorithms in place designed specifically to promote variety in the results page. For example, you can imagine limiting the number of results returned from one single site to allow other results to show up instead. That helps with the diversity of the search results. When trying to find the best search results, we look at relevance, diversity, personalization, localization, as well as serendipity and try to find the best balance we can.
I saw Eli Pariser's talk at TED and was skeptical, although I did enjoy his example of Facebook starting to return only his liberal friends because he only ever clicked on the links his liberal friends shared. I had a number of concerns browsing through Pariser's book, but I would encourage anyone interested in these issues to pick up a copy; it's a thoughtful read.
But here's why some people probably don't like personalization: It's invisible. There is nothing on the results page that tells you whether your results are personalized or not. Sure, you can look at whether the browser is in incognito mode or you can look for some parameter in the URL, but these things require that you already know about personalization.
In contrast to personalization there are various indicators that a page is localized. The most prominent is obviously the language of the text. As soon as all the search results are in my local language it is very obvious to me that I got localized search results. I can also detect localization by looking at the Google logo on the homepage (localized versions have the country name in grey text below the Google logo), by looking at the language of the Google interface, by remembering the domain name I used to access Google and by looking at the sidebar on the left that even displays a guess of my location on the city-level.
There are no such indicators at all for filtered/personalized results. Every user around me starts with the same version of Google results. That's how everyone got acquainted with Google in the beginning. Same results for everyone. There is no reason for a user to question that until you see the differences by comparing search results, which most users won't. Someone who doesn't happen to work at Google or didn't hear about the "filter bubble" can't know that search results will start to diverge from vanilla results over time.
So personalized Google results violate the principle of least astonishment.
While I can't speak for other people, I think that the concerns that some people have about this are rooted in the fact that you can get trapped in some sort of feedback loop without ever knowing. If you could see that your results are personalized you could compare them to unpersonalized results and decide for yourself which you like better.
Sorry, this is just not the case: we do provide indication on Google's search results page for personalized results. Here's a couple links that talk about how we surface whether results have been personalized: http://www.google.com/support/websearch/bin/answer.py?answer... is our support page and http://searchengineland.com/google-now-notifies-of-search-cu... is an article on Search Engine Land from 2008 when we started surfacing information on how results were personalized.
Here's a simple demo. Do a search in Chrome incognito mode and go to the bottom of the page. You won't see a link that says "View customizations." Now do a search in regular Chrome and check for that link. When I did a search for [matt cutts] in regular Chrome, I saw the "View customizations" link, clicking the link gives this message:
"Search customization details: matt cutts
When possible, Google will customize your search results based on location and/or recent search activity. Additionally, when you're signed in to your Google Account, you may see even more relevant, useful results based on your web history.
The following information was used to improve your search results for matt cutts:
Web HistoryOne or more items in your Web History were used to improve search results.
Manage Web History
Remove Web History from my Google Account
If you're curious, you can see what a search for matt cutts looks like without these improvements.
The 'More details' link on your search results page can be used to display this page for approximately 30 minutes, after which it will no longer show this page."
In other words, not only can you tell whether a search results page was personalized, you can click a link right on the search results to see exactly what criteria were used to personalize the results. And that page has a clear link to run the search again without personalization.
As I mentioned before, personalization is typically a minor effect in Google's search results and it's almost always an improvement. But for people who are worried about potential "over-personalization," we do provide easy ways to see when a search was personalized, why it was personalized, and do the search again without personalization.
In my defense, I couldn't know about the "View customizations" link because I do have web history turned off, so apparently I never saw any personalized search results. After reading the DuckDuckGo page I expected that everyone's search results get personalized, especially if I am logged in with a Gmail account.
It's obviously not your fault that I didn't know about that, but, on the other hand, you can never expect from a user to know the contents of any help page. Clicking on "help" links is not what most users do. (imagine smiley face here, I don't dare to do that on Hacker News)
Additionally, I think that the "View customizations" link is a bit misleading, because usually customizations (in terms of software) are not automatic. At least I would expect that customizations are something that I do.
Also, the link seems to be placed at the bottom of the page, which means that 99% of the users are probably blind for it. (I can't verify where it is actually placed, because I don't see it.)
After all, I am thankful for the great search results that Google offers. Thank you for your hard work.
But there's another guiding principle that things on the search results page need to "earn" their pixels. Since personalization is a second-order effect and very very few people ever cared enough to click the link and get more info, eventually that link made its way to the bottom of the search results.
But the real solution is to use a search engine that does not track you. Even better is to use it in such a way that it can't track you (ie. through a Tor proxy, while taking other reasonable precautions).
Over time, we saw that people didn't seem to notice/care about the message and corresponding link much, so it eventually migrated down to the bottom of the search results.
Instead, you could have tried to make it more prominent by (for instance) moving it to the upper left rather than the upper right of the search results, right above/below the ads.
Another issue that might be interesting to explore is to what extent users really understand what search customization is, and whether they'd care more or less about it being done automatically once they understood it better.
I have a feeling the vast majority of them probably wouldn't care, and take the attitude of "do whatever it takes to make the results you return more relevant, and I don't really care how."
Google also filters special terms like bittorrent in instant search. This is part of that bubble and people don't even realize it. Thats the point, that most people won't notice, not that the views are not there.
Its like experts-exchange.com putting content below the long footer of the page, yea they can claim its there but many won't notice.
I cant begin to describe how annoying it is that I am presented with a different language when travelling to a different country. All I ever want is Google in English but it keeps going back to a localized search regardless of the many times that I choose "google in english"
By the way, I asked why the "no country redirect" isn't stored with your Google account rather with a cookie. The main reason he gave was that whether to do a country redirect is one of the first things we decide, and it's faster to use a cookie for that than to go looking up the user's account setting. Or at least, cookies have been faster up until this point. Hope that helps explain things.
There seems to be no discernible pattern as to why it works in one session, suspend laptop, go somewhere else and it stops working. Or it'll work twice in a row and when I return location a (both in the same foreign country), it stops working.
Though it makes me less worried about them collating all my personal information if they can't figure out I didn't suddenly learn to speak German ;)
does not seem to be a valid option. Is there a way to pass NCR in a param like ncr=1? Or the fact that Google SSL is used implies use of NCR?
EDIT: It looks like &ncr=1 does work but I'm not sure if this is equivalent to no country redirect.
Right now, this is what I have set up (which also disables personalization)
Some of the time it doesn't, e.g. now when Google has custom logos I'll get a search term in Dutch (I'm in The Netherlands) when I click on it, even though I'm using google.com in English when doing so.
Also, it only works sometimes.
Trying to set the cookie just does not seem to stick
For some reason responsible googlers were ignoring my proposal.
I know I can use /ncr at the end, but I'd rather not have to do that all the time, and I think you can't even make that the default search for the Omnibox in Chrome, which means I have to give up Omnibox, which I love using, in order to get away from personalization. And even then, I think it just means I won't see my country specific results, but it probably still personalizes my search results through other types of signals.
So fine, don't make universal search the default way to search, but just give me a checkbox so I can turn it on when I want to. I want to see the best results, period - not the best results for me (or whatever Google thinks are the best results for me).
But aren't you a part of the relevance equation? The ideal results for a search like [bitcoin crash] should be different for a Japanese-speaking searcher in Tokyo vs. a German-speaking searcher in Munich vs. a bitcoin expert vs. a programmer trying to diagnose why compiling bitcoin is crashing vs. my Mom who has never heard of bitcoin before, right?
Short version of long story: I used to bounce my net traffic through an ssh tunnel to a hosted VM. The VM was moved to a new machine in south-east asia. Having Google Toolbar constantly send my searches to the localized engine, despite the cookie selection, my being logged in and my preferences being clearly set, was more of a day-to-day annoyance than having my traffic piped across the Pacific twice.
For YEARS, on a weekly and sometimes daily basis, always logged-in, always with preferences set to english, it is infuriating to routinely end up receiving results that conflict with your explicit language settings.
What, concretely, do we have to do to get someone at google to push a change from using cookies to a real user-setting to fix this absurdity?
You said they did it for speed. Giving me completely incorrect results in a language I can't even read 1 millisecond faster than giving me results that I actually care about is a win? This is over-optimization.
I agree completely. Reading that page, my first thought was "if (not saying I don't) Egypt is a place I probably don't plan on going to, why should I waste time looking at those links in my search results?"
Overall, I think personalization (wow, this isn't a word?) reaches its own form of market efficiency. If the personalization algorithms are bad, then people would shy away from the search engines that provide them. However, if they make sense, and return the most relevant results most of the time, then that's saving us a lot of time.
"Append a cryptic query param" is a terrible user interface, and it's a little silly to suggest this as a solution. Make it an option real people can discover and use.
when it launched
Just curious, why add this qualification? Is it significantly different now?
the impact was on the order of one search result above the fold for one in five search results.
That statistic needs a little clarifying. Query terms frequency follows a power law distribution, doesn't it? So if you're counting each individual term, the fact that 1 in 20 have altered results could very easily still mean a majority of actual searches are altered. And depending on how you calculated the 'one search result above the fold' number, it could very easily still mean that when a page is altered, it's altered significantly.
More interesting would be knowing these stats for just the fat head of the query term distribution.
Personally, if I have a search that feels a bit sensitive, I just hop into incognito mode in Chrome. Control-shift-N is an easy shortcut to open an incognito window in Chrome. And don't forget that you can use https://encrypted.google.com/ to do a search via SSL as well, which provides an encrypted tunnel between your browser and Google.
One solution that actually does solve this is to use Scroogle or to access google through Tor.
EDIT: I feel that i should clarify that of course SSL is a very important feature to have for a whole slew of reasons and that i'm glad Google supports it, just that it wasn't relevant to my point.
I'm a big believer in prioritizing actual issues over perceived issues. Using SSL search prevents bosses, ISPs, and governments from sniffing your queries, and I consider those to be the largest threats to your privacy. Some ISPs sell their customers' query data and surfing patterns, for example. In contrast, when the Department of Justice tried to subpoena two months worth of user queries, Google resisted that challenge and won in court. Having worked at Google for 11+ years, I know that my colleagues care a great deal about our users' trust and privacy and work to protect it with features like SSL search, two-factor authentication, warnings when sites might be hacked or hosting malware, etc.
If you're that worried about Google, don't use it, but if you still want Google results but with as much anonymization as possible, I would choose Tor+incognito-Chromium instead of Scroogle for your searches.
Ironically, "the real concern" is personalized. The married guy searching for "hot local hookups" doesn't care what google knows, he just doesn't want it to show up in his browser's history. The junior high student reading The Big Book of Mischief in the computer lab doesn't want his school's network monitors to find out. The dissident in Tunisia doesn't want his government monitoring his Internet usage.
There's only a small set of privacy-conscious Internet users who should be concerned about Google, whether or not they're as impregnable a bastion of privacy as their employees might claim.
Crazy good stuff has been going on with DDG the latest couple of months, I'm just glad I've finally found a search provider who takes these issues seriously!
If I type in "Barack Obama", it will not show me links about The Green Bay Packers NFL team. This is not because Google is conspiring to keep me from reading about the Green Bay Packers. It is because it is most likely that I am not looking for Packers links and will not click. The general idea is that Google starts with every single piece of content on the internet and filters to get the content it thinks I am looking for.
Now, this article complains that Google is flawed because it will more likely show some MSNBC over Fox News, or vice versa. The implication here is that you never click on Fox News when it is presented. Because if you did click on Fox News and its ilk from time to time, Google wouldn't start filtering it in the first place. The problem isn't that the search engine creates the "bubble", it is that the user does!
So if the scenario presented in this article offends you, then start changing your behavior and browsing more diverse
sites. Otherwise, don't blame Google for noting that you hang out in a very narrow corner of the internet, and presenting you links from that corner. It's just doing its job correctly in that case.
I wonder how easy it is to get "clean" or "default" results from Google?
And I know it's been discussed many times , but just how easy would it be to maintain real anonymity across the web?
I don't understand that site.
If you are using firefox, right click into the input field and select add keyword search, and add a keyword. Now you can easily search via scroogle entering the keyword and then the searchterms in the address bar.
Somewhere, I think even on HN, I was taught about google.com/ncr - which should solve that problem (being in Country A and arriving on the localized, unreadable landing page) once and for all.
That said: I've DDG as my homepage and I'm a happy user.
There are ways to sort of get around that but they are cumbersome and they don’t always work right.
Google is pretty good at figuring out what to show you depending on the language of the search terms you are using. When there are German words in my search query Google will show me predominantly German results. That’s to be expected, that’s what I want. The problem is that Google seems to use my location (IP address, maybe also the language of the interface and whether I’m using google.de or google.com) and override that behavior so that even if I’m using english words in my query it will nevertheless show me predominantly German results.
edit: speaking of bubbles :D
Fine. It's not a "filter bubble", it's "excessive personalization", and it's still bad.
Arguing about what it's called doesn't do a thing to change whether or not it exists, or whether or not it's a real problem.
My personal stance is actually a great deal more nuanced, which is that you can't not be in a bubble. It is mathematically impossible. Any way of slicing the torrent of information coming at you constitutes a bias. The entire idea of "piercing the bubble" is an instance of English misleading you, it's a concept without a referent. The question is not how to "escape" the bubble, the question is how do we choose our bubble?
(Also, paragraph != sentence)
 Excessive meaning "more than is necessary, normal, or desirable".
You seem to be trying to draw me into defending a point I'm not making. I'm making a much more subtle one, which is that you can't escape being in a bubble (not the bubble, which I initially typed, because there isn't the bubble, there's all kinds of them), so in a way arguing about whether it's "excessive" isn't even the right dimension to argue on; the filter bubbles simply are. (Not "simply ar excessive", simply are; they simply exists regardless of whether they are excessive or desirable or anything else.) The question is, what should be done about that fact, rather than how do we prevent that fact from being true, and to be honest I'm rather ambivalent about the answer to that question, because the answer is dominated more by your preconceptions and pre-existing goals than anything interesting.
I really should just blog this up.
I'm not saying it's evil or wrong, just that if my first results don't appeal to me, a simple measure that might work for me would be to turn the filter off. Anyway, they could learn more about me if they let me do that.
In summary what he said on the show was something like: At least the news shows (and news pappers, radio) gives the same information to everyone, so instead of showing Kardashians news they do show you Bin Laden news, even though, they know the Kardashians are more profitable... this is not the case with Google Search or Netflix, Yahoo, Bing, etc (all attacked by this author).
I think that ML helps more than it hurts and viewing it in a non-technical way is wrong, the author gives the impression that Google (the company and their execs) manually (via algorithms, but very manageable in his opinion) change the search results to not show things that they don't like, then it raises the question "do we really trust one company?".
Its arguable that the search results in Google or Netflix are optimized for profits, but how do you make profits in the customer industry? IMHO you do that by making their happier, showing useful results, for them, not for everyone.
I'm waiting for the time when I google: "what channel and time is Conan on"  and I get "channel 43 11pm" as the result. Of course that is very personalized, and the result will be just for me... but again I'm the one searching and I'm the one needing the results.
 At the moment I get this 1st result: http://articles.boston.com/2010-11-10/ae/29330376_1_conan-an... which is not what I searched for nor wanted...
And user regardless of nay personalization can dig through any initial results.
It's just annoying an ignorant bullshit being disguised as a real issue.
• The results are less relevant. Bubble or no, it was harder to find things I look for all the time. For example I had to constantly add the word Seattle to my search terms.
• It felt like an old search engine. The results, the display, the choice of Mapquest maps all made me feel like I was using Yahoo or even early Google.
• At first the feeling of not being watched was liberating but I forgot about it very quickly.
I'm going to continue using it as my default search for the lack of tracking but Iv'e already had to go to Google a few times to find what I was looking for. Convenience over privacy right?
Point of fact: it isn't MapQuest, it is OpenStreetMap served via OpenMapquest, which uses their resources to forward that project. You can read more about it at http://openstreetmap.com/ (left column) and http://open.mapquestapi.com/ - in any case, maps are relatively new and in process.
Ironically, I do use the ddg bang (!) operators quite often. ...like !gm or !gi if I know I want a map or image (for example)
The purpose of search engines is filtering content to give us what we asked for. Unless they developed mind-reading technology, Google doesn't really know what I want and attempts at guessing it will lead to substandard results.
*-- Wikipedia, for example, is built around an ideal of giving people an objective survey of different things.
A website where any amount of divergent opinions get edited down to a single article on the subject (target of edit wars and well-known editorial biases) is hardly "an objective survey of different things."
I think you really hit the crux of the issue here. My opinion is, these search engines are built around the UI paradigm of "type something into the box and go find that thing." The user doesn't have one box for finding discussion forums, one box for finding blogs that have people they agree with, one box for finding material that appeared in print publications, etc, and yet search engines are for finding all these things, if you want them.
As long as there's people typing "climate change" into Google, Google has to guess at what they are asking for because there ain't enough bits in the query to tell it. There's no a priori reason to expect that they are asking for the most informative and accurate links covering a wide variety of perspectives on climate change; many people probably aren't.
Regarding Wikipedia, well, that's why I said it was the ideal. You're never going to crowdsource perfect objectivity and truth from a million biased writers with ulterior motives, but they try, and they do an OK job on many topics.
What is controversial is whether "what I asked for" is a better approximation of that, or whether "what Google's model of me indicates I really want" is a better approximation.
I can't say which one wins for you, right now; but it's clear that this hinges on the accuracy of the model--which is one reason privacy and usability are at odds.
I also don't think that mere transparency would really help solve any search engine "filter bubble" problem, if such a thing is real. Nothing would make Joe Google User take five minutes off whatever he came to search for to fiddle with some tree full of sliders on his result page.
I would gladly prefer a "pre-filtered" list, as long as I could tweak it. For example, if I'm searching for viewpoints that don't correspond with my political views, it'd be nice to be able to find those by disabling the "political bent" filter based on personalization.
To not do so is to constantly wear rose-tinted glasses... pleasant, but ultimately, dangerous.
Edit: I didn't intend to bash Google specifically. But they are faced with a choice in which their own interest conflict with those of their users. And as Capitalist Bastards are more and more accepted in our society, we don't blame them for the selfish choice. Maybe not a shame then, but at the very least a pity.
One person's "confirmation bias" is another person's "relevance". Increasing relevance to the user will naturally result in confirming their biases, because there's (probably) no programmatic way to discern contentious subjects in which confirmation bias is applicable from non-contentious subjects where it's not.
The only "shame" I see here is people who ascribe some sort of devious intention to what's clearly the natural result of trying to solve the most important problem in search.
As long as this is done in a neutral way (by delivering the same result to everyone), any confirmation bias will be averaged across entire populations, so this should be okay.
Personalized results however make the results noticeably more pleasant, and significantly more biased (this is probably unavoidable). Of course Google, Bing, and Co would shun that bias thing. Who can blame them?
I don't want blame Google specifically. I want to point out this old, common moral dilemma: make money, or don't hurt anyone? Google took the money. Many do. I'm not sure to what extent we should blame them, but clearly, the System™ has room for improvement.
The end user is fine - they are more likely to see results they are actually interested in. If a user doesn't trust a source and won't click on their links, they'll soon not have to bother scrolling past them.
The sites themselves actually benefit as well. Sure, they may be bumped from the first page of results for users that are unlikely to visit their site, anyway, but the tradeoff is that they get a higher position for the users who may actually visit their site. It's an ideal trade for those being filtered.
I suppose that leaves the idea that the end result is a "biased" internet. I don't buy it. Google is not removing sites that disagree with them, they are re-ordering them for different users. If your profile wasn't factored in, then what options do they have?
They could order on popularity, but biasing towards popular opinion isn't any better than biasing towards my opinion.
They could randomize the order, this would be without bias, but absolutely useless to anyone.
They could judge the objective truth of sites, but that's far more biased than any of the other options.
Now go use that as an estimation of popularity and veracity. I bet many people do, without knowing the result is strongly biased by their own prior behaviour.
Search engine, as the sole entry point of the web, do bias it. Page Rank for instance, could trigger a feedback loop: if a site is more prominent in searches, it will get more links. That will get them more search prominence, and feedback and foom.
Now is the popular bias better than the personal bias? I think it is. One would at least get to be exposed to other's opinions, instead of just his own.
If you just care about the economy of the web, in the sense of selling, advertising, promoting, buying… then of course the personal bias is currently best. That's the most efficient way to milk the tear$ out of eyeballs. The easiest way to reward the brains behind those eyeballs. When it's all about money, there is absolutely no problem with the method. But I have other values besides money. A very important one is respecting curiosity and search for truth. The personal bias doesn't.
Consider users of Reddit. Now most of them would consider themselves very open minded and enlightened, yet their is active discouragement for radical ideas without due consideration as to their merits. It's just easier to downvote and look at Mario cake.
Overall, I think in a way we NEED filters to remove the faff, but be careful to keep a social circle which encourages radical ideas to be bought out into the light of logic and due consideration,
It's quite shocking to see just how much those results differ from the ones I'm usually served, actually.
I know it's actually supposed to be 'awesome' to have every search tailored to _you_, but it just makes me feel uncomfortable that I'm not seeing the internet "the way it's supposed to be seen" - if that makes any sense.
(1): Or at least a smaller bubble, considering it still knows my location - even though i use google.com, my os, my browser, etc...
What I'd really like to see, is a search engine to allow me to do both. I'd like to have a profile (that didn't use my name), and when I wanted to, I could click a result as 'useful'. This would go into my personal algorithm. I could then toggle between filtered search, or unfiltered search, whenever I like.
It might even be useful to build search filter categories. But I'd keep that a bit buried for the power users.
I suggest Chromium for the paranoid!
Or, to get all pithy about it, the problem is not the filter bubble, it's the crap bubble.
If there's a problem with relevance sorting at all, it's the issue that it is based on history, not intent.
Also, works well for me.
While some may think that this is hiding, do we not often create algorithms to asses and aide? It seems like disabling this would be against the advancement of a learning system.
I for one think its a great feature and have no desire to disable it.
Exactly the same as the "search term leakage" rubbish.
You've just undermined your own search engine's potential to use such a feature in the future -- people will be spitting quotes back at DDG about how opposed on this feature they were. Know your audience.
Update: the quotes vs no quotes doesn't change the top results on Bing (at least for this search).
!gh works too.
I've added DuckDuck to my FireFox search engines.
Ditto for youtube (!yt) etc etc
If you filter by what you want you don't get what you didn't know you wanted.
I will give DDG the benefit of the doubt and try it out for a couple of months.
In making the switch, I highly advise you to spend a little bit of time learning the keyboard shortcuts, especially the !Bang feature (https://duckduckgo.com/bang.html). You'll love the HN search options. =) There are so many, you won't be able to learn them all.
You can also still use Google if you want, or even Bing (or other engines). Basically, the !Bang syntax would mean even if you aren't using DDG, it enables you to quickly use whatever engine you really want.
I'm just a fan of DDG. Hope you find it as useful as I do. =)
DDG is my default search engine. Basically, all of my searches are completed in DDG, only very few times I have to go to google to find what I am looking for. My suggestion is that you spend 5 minutes learning the bang! syntax, as it speeds up your search by alot, then set DDG as your default search engine for a couple weeks. You will see that the bang! syntax and the 0-click-info really makes the difference on search speed, and their results are pretty damn good.
So I will stay information sided for a while
Maybe, but that is not the point.
Besides, you are mixing localization (japanese vs german) with personalization (expert vs naive), and what is worst is that you are assuming that Google knows so well each user so as to be right (and that is either impossible, either extremely creepy), at every single instant of his life (a person can change interests).
Furthermore, to grab your example, how can Google know that an expert in bitcoin and expert in bitcoin compilation and crash solver, is not just interested in hearing about the "market" crash of bitcoin?
Google CANNOT read the users' mind. And even if it did, there would not be a need for "personalized search", as the "mind reading" would give enough search criteria to nail the results more easily (albeit, most people do not know exactly what they want, so it will still be an iterative process, which is good, as randomness is the seed for evolution).
So, back to the point, it is that in the quest for "adequate results" for each person, Google is turning web search into a non-deterministic event ().
Imagine the web being a library, and the search being searching for the library's book database, why would the search for a given book return different results to different persons? It should always return the same results, if the person doing the search is not satisfied with the results, then she/he will add more criteria. In other words, let the person do the filtering!
Once that Google accepts that in his quest for "better results" (where 'better' is a concept decided by solely Google and whose ranking parameters and algorithm are unknown) there is a potential (probably demonstrable already) for a "filter bubble" with positive feedback loop on user behaviour, which, as with any positive feedback loop, can go out of control, exacerbating certain ideologies and fueling extremisms.
And there is a fundamental difference between a "self guided" (as in self controlled) filtering, where users would knowingly filter out results in order to find those that they like, and a "google guided" (as in externally controlled), filtering.
() strictly speaking, search will not be deterministic as the web is a dynamic system and it grows, so search results can vary with time, but they should not vary from person to person at a given time.
You are absolutely right that more criteria should be used if a user is interested in better results, but I fail to see why a deterministic base case is superior. If I never click on news links and always click on travel links, it makes perfect sense for Google to assume that my search for "Egypt" is looking for information related to travel to Egypt. If I am not following my usual search patterns, I can look on the second page, or I can disable personalized search, or I can search for "Egypt News" all of which would give me better results.
Why is it preferable to always make everyone clarify their searches when there is sufficient information to narrow the search down somewhat without requiring additional intervention by the user? This is usability 101 right here.
Works fine, but how do I return to country redirect? Am in Germany, used it for some global searches, now want my localized (German ) searches back. Must be missing something obvious here, please help, thanks!
I understand the quest for a larger userbase but please don't use this sort of FUD that is being peddled by those who don't understand the technical aspects of search and are trying to sell their books.
A search engine's prime function is to filter the millions of results for each query down to the most relevant results for each individual user, and never the same 10 results are relevant to each and every user.
There is little difference between personalization and the relevance of search results.
How would you go about ranking then? alphabetically?! it's a matter of tuning the relevance 'dials' and it's all in early stages so a solution to this imaginary problem is more research and not to hide behind bullshit terminology.
And as a bonus a user (regardless of any personalization) can dig through any initial set of results if she seeks more information.
So please don’t buy into this misleading and ignorant bullshit that is being disguised as a real issue.
But for exploratory search and exhaustive search personalization works as an echo chamber (or filter bubble if you will) .
Then there is the problem of change and inertia. People change, their preferences vary in time. Personalization has an inertia that causes the recommendation engine to always be behind the actual preferences. It's more visible the better the recommendation engine.
I'm not saying personalization is problematic. There are problems with using it all the time and stealthily, without a clear possibility to turn it off.
It's not FUD, but a challenge to overcome.
The same way that what a user might enjoy can be inferred the inverse of that can be used as a signal in the algorithm as well. Personalization is just relevance and all is just a matter of tuning.
The challenge is that people switch very quickly between these search modes and don't even think about it.
"There is little difference between personalization and the relevance of search results."
Even if you're a Sailor Moon fan, you might actually be looking for information about the rock rotating around this planet when searching for "moon". In the same vein I might be a liberal but be looking for a multitude of opposing views and ideas when googling "core values of NRA members".
Oh btw, we engineers, our algorithms, aren't smart enough to foretell people's inclinations based on their past habits, we also can't read minds. The increasing use of personalization as a factor for relevancy will, imho, lead to user dissatisfaction, precisely because they make shoddy assumptions.
Believe it or not, but some people also want to be surprised and learn new things. YES. We exist!
The article makes the assumption that personalized search results are bad for you, then goes on exemplifying it, but does not say or demonstrate in any way why personalized search results are bad, especially since it doesn't give any context about the person making those queries.
Search ranking is a matter of context. "Egypt" does not mean anything, other than the name of a country, and different people mean different things. When you're searching for "Egypt" and want to get travel tips, if you don't get them you can always expand your query to "Egypt travelling tips". But even that is a pretty shallow request and you can further expand it like "Egypt travel guide to the pyramids".
The search engine's job is to find what I'm looking for. And IMHO the current state of the art is a little behind my expectations - I would have expected these personalized results to be far more effective than they are by now.
For general search queries, the long tail goes out the window anyway, and I haven't done or seen any quality metrics for DDG, but I doubt their search results are better for exploration or getting opinions different from your own.
From my personal experience, people rarely search for something as simple as "Egypt," and instead, search for "Egypt travelling tips" like your example.
If your Google-fu is strong, you'll write a query that targets your desired results much better than a generic shot-in-the-dark query.
Keep going to the library, keep having those conversations, and eventually, the librarian will take you straight to the books you want when you ask for Norway. If you want something different, you'll have to explicitly ask.
What Google is doing is no different. It just happens to have a lot more conversations with you.
- You blatantly correct the conversation by adding additional text to the search: "norway government" versus "norway travel".
- You subtly correct the conversation over time with more government queries/clicks/likes or more travel queries/clicks/likes.
Listening to Matt Cutt's response, it sounds like all of these signals are pretty minor anyway.
I agree with you that these seem to be small changes. So far.
Let me try this example: Suppose your searches are primarily academic. Let's say that whenever you search the term "momentum" you are looking for something scientific- ballistics, elementary particles, whatever. But one day you are writing a blog in which you want to search for background, but you need to use a non-scientific meaning of the same word. Perhaps a psychic used the term and you are debunking. The particular case is irrelevant. The point is tha if personalization is too aggressive you may not find the info most relevant to your interests.
This isn't privacy FUD or anything, just a pragmatic warning. The FUD comes when you start thinking about how their algorithms might actually decide which results you are "interested" in. Thinking of Google, what bu siness are they in? What about you behavior on the web most interests them? Would they decide that the most interesting things to you are the ones on which you clicked the most ads?
As a counter-example: Suppose your searches are primarily academic. Let's say that whenever you search the term "momentum" you are looking for something scientific- ballistics, elementary particles, whatever. But most people aren't looking for scientific info, so you constantly have to dig and dig to find anything relevant on Google. The point is, if the search technology is too impersonal, you may not find the info most relevant to your interests.
This is the crucial point. As long as it's accessible, I can get what I want by search refinement either way (but I would imagine that it would be easier for me to refine in the space in which I am familiar than to refine in the unfamiliar space). Giving me the (easy) option to turn it off is a good idea for search.
And for the record the political example was about facebook wall.
- Search for term on DDG
- Look at results, find nothing
- Try to find better term
- Give up and use original term in Google
- Find result
I tried to use DDG exclusively two time (once 8 months ago, once ~4 months ago), but the result was the same. I don't know how much personalization affects this, but Google just gives me the best results.
My own standing is that most of the time you need what you have to have to complete task at hand. Then you could go at YouTube and refresh "Recomendations" to your heart content.
The other way around is to wreak havoc to important parts of your life.
Do you have any proof that this isn't what all search engines actually do?
At least to me.
I think the chance that I would click on a bullshit source like Fox News is very low because I don't trust them. Even if Google brought it up as the first result.
My point is that people already only click on search results that they agree with. Nobody wants to see stuff that they disagree with. That is human nature.
So living in a filter bubble already happens without automatic filters. It happens in our brains and we call it personality.
Media outlets always filtered stuff for you but now the algorithms are 'filtering' results according to your interaction to find what's relevant to you, so you have a 'vote' here.
You also can dig through any initial results (click the news vertical to find more news for example) you couldn't do that with the media of yore.
If you want to understand where I am coming from then this is why I think it's an issue
Changing the language not that intuitive in Google, it's a drag. I have to do it all the time when I clean my cookies, and sometimes I still get crappy "pt.wikipedia.org" results on top instead of "en.wikipedia.org" just because my browser isn't in english and I don't want to change it just because of Google.
I might want to type www.google.it and search for Berlusconi news in Italia, but it won't let me, because it just show me brazilian news. So yeah, I can't even get to another bubble.
Also, apparently Google filters by IP, since searching via Tor or a VPS renders very different results. I dislike this for personal reasons because it breaks the internet for me.
Also, I might not like the fact that Google collects stuff about my search habits, which is also a valid concern.
So, there, it's an issue for me. Might be an edge case, might be an exception, but I think that I deserve to know why this happens and the alternatives.
Oh, you know, maybe using Google's much vaunted "PageRank" algorithm, which is supposed to take in to account things such as links on other pages back to the page being considered for inclusion in the search results.. the more such links there are, the better the rank is supposed to be.
The above description is obviously an oversimplification, and I don't have access to Google's PageRank algorithm anyway, so couldn't tell you what it actually was if I wanted to, but it's something along those lines, and need not take in to account your previous search history in any way or "personalize" the search for you.
DDG: If you want to grow, don't keep attacking the big search engines with FUD that only a miniscule % of people care about.
Searches per day in Feb average = 197,687
Searches per day in May average = 205,759
FUD certainly won't grow DDG out of the extreme niche it's in.
It's even more significant when you look at where it was a year ago. 1.2 million in April 2010, 5.9 million in April 2011, 6.3 last month, and already 3.8 a little over halfway through this month. This is significant when you consider the lack of marketing and that DDG is run by one person.
How would you go about ranking then? alphabetically?! it's a matter of tuning the relevance 'dials' and it's all in early stages so a solution to this imaginary problems is more research and not to create bullshit terminology in order to sell some books.
"Pure" relevance is solely a function of the query and the document - R(q,d).
Personalization involves the user and possibly the context - R(q,d,u,x). Now, if you consider the user and their context to be part of the query, then yes, it's the same thing as relevance.
So the real question: should the user's identity/history/profile and/or current context be considered a part of the relevance function or not? DDG says no, Google says yes.
Thinking of it in this way makes the real question clearer. Unfortunately, it will probably make little sense to most Real Users.