San Francisco — Are you upset with Google’s search results? Then simply wipe them out and personalize it to your hearts content! Hoping to embellish its search engine with a more personal touch, Google Inc. just yesterday rolled out a new feature called “SearchWiki” that enables people to elevate, delete, add, and annotate search results.
Google has been providing SearchWiki as part of an experimental feature to selected people for months, but beginning Thursday it will become available to anybody who is searching while logged in with a Google account.
“This is a search characteristic that gives out a user more control over their search results,” said Cedric Dupont, Google’s SearchWiki product manager.
This launch marks the first time that the Internet’s most popular search engine has permitted its audience to alter the order of search results. Google now empowers users to reorganize results so their favorite Web sites get top billing and disliked destinations get discarded the next time they enter the same request.
Users can shift the sites that appear in rankings up or down, pull them out altogether, leave comments next to specific sites and suggest new sites that are not already in the results. Users can return to their annotations when they perform the same search later.
The company is also putting these comments public, in an attempt that may either deter Google users from writing anything too personal on SearchWiki or encourage spammers to exploit the tool.
Below each Google search results page, logged-in Google users will see a link that says, “See all notes for this SearchWiki.” Clicking on the link would enable the users to view how other people have re-ranked results or commented on sites. At least at first, there will not be any way to make these notes private, Google says, but users can change or delete their notes at any time.
However, any modifications would not affect Google’s intimately guarded formulas for ranking Web sites, the Mountain View-based company is not ruling out eventually tapping into collective wisdom of the crowds to tweak its Internet-searching algorithms.
For the time being, Google simply wants to make specific sets of results more useful to each individual that comes to its search engine, said Marissa Mayer, who oversees the company’s search products.
“It should make the search results more dynamic,” she said.
Around 40 per cent of searches are estimated to be repeat queries, where people use Google as a book-marking service and want to return to the same website they had viewed before. SearchWiki is aimed at making this aspect of search more effective and personalized.
SearchWiki users have an up arrow and a cross beside each search result and by clicking on them can either promote the result or remove it. If the user knows of a better webpage, for instance a great listing for restaurants in a search for a trip to New York, then the user can type in the URL or website address and SearchWiki will list it the next time. All these actions can be undone with a click.
Dupont said: “Annotations are an enormous way to save and recall any thoughts you had or notes you took about a particular webpage. These are also public for others to view and get feedback on a website. We want to make this a much more interactive platform.”
The decision to permit people tinker with their results is a soundless acknowledgment that not even Google is seemingly omniscient search engine can possibly divine which Web sites will appeal to specific users. It also underscores how frequently people use Google to search for the same thing, such as “San Francisco hotels,” over and over again.
Google is not the only on in offering customization solution. With a research project called U Rank, Microsoft has been testing the user-tuned search results idea. Mahalo presents search results created by humans. And Wikia Search, an open-source search engine, is open to user suggestions. “Today, search undervalues the human touch,” argues Wikia Search.
It is possible that companies like Search Engine Optimizers, or SEOs, who help companies improve their search engine rankings, should not rush to start manipulating SearchWiki — at least not yet. Ms. Mayer said that SearchWiki comments and re-rankings will have no affect on the Google algorithm and how it ranks sites for the general Google audience. “At this time we are not using SearchWiki to influence ranking but it is easy to see how that could happen in the future” she said.
“This lets people save their personal experience and lets them keep their thoughts on a particular search.” Ms. Mayer said.
SearchWiki will begin a gradual rollout to all users Thursday.