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Raul Valdes-Perez: Why Search Personalization is a Dead End
"Given these difficulties, search personalization is likely to waste the talents of top computer scientists."
The problems Mr Valdes-Perez enumerates are real; nevertheless I think that it's quite an exaggeration to declare search personalization a dead end, wholesale.
One problem with his argument is definitional in nature; assuming a very broad definition of personalization, the Web (experience) is inherently personalized, always, it couldn't be any other way - unless I'm forced to surf sites in a predefined sequence; a rather unlikely scenario in most countries, fortunately. Similarly, every single search I'm conducting is inherently personalized - conditioned on my current interests which in turn are expressed through a couple of words.
Clearly, he has a very specific form of personalization in mind. Unfortunately he doesn't tell us which, but probably he's thinking about variations of the (presumably) profile-driven kind currently being phased in by Google; a kind of all-or-nothing personalization which gives users very little control over (or even an idea of) how it's actually affecting results.
It might be more meaningful to discuss much more specific aspects of personalization, for example factors and what level of control people get over them. I'd certainly like to know what factors influence what information reaches me, and ideally, I want to be able to control those factors, to play with them as easily as with search terms.
On Amazon, for example, I find the personalized sections on the front-page to be of fairly low value; of the problems mentioned by Valdes-Perez, #1, #4 and #5 apply (profile lag, shared computers/accounts, very little intent information). The only means of control I have of what information reaches me there is to either buy a product - or not. By navigating to individual products, however, I'm very much in (real-time, even!) control of what information reaches me, and it's quite clear why I'm getting it: because other people who bought the lamp I'm looking at also bought that snow wovel.
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