Over the last 2 weeks, there have been a series of announcements about new personalization options from several major search engines, each offering a different lure to retain searchers. First, Ask Jeeves upgraded MyJeeves, its personal search system. New features include new ways to add data, support for images, and more robust information management capabilities. Then, Yahoo! launched a new beta version of its Yahoo! News that has a streamlined design with easier navigation, plus its "My Sources" personalization feature lets users add news from all over the Web to the front page of Yahoo! News via RSS syndication. Also, Google has just introduced My Search History, a new beta application that keeps track of a registered user's Web searches and pages viewed from search results. These new personalization options, in addition to features offered by A9.com, AOL, and others, give users a range of choices to match their individual search styles and needs.
Ask Jeeves first introduced MyJeeves in September 2004. MyJeeves allows users to save search results, search history, and links to favorite Web pages and images as they search. These can then be organized into folders, tagged, searched, and shared. The new version lets users:
- Add to MyJeeves from the Ask Jeeves toolbars (for both IE and Firefox)
- Save links to images and view thumbnails with MyJeeves
- Import browser bookmarks
- Organize with hierarchical folders, with up to seven levels of subfolders
- Add a user's own searchable metadata tags to any data within MyJeeves
The upgrade represents another step in Ask Jeeves' personalization strategy. Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search properties at Ask Jeeves, commented: "In the future, look for MyJeeves integration with both our desktop product and with Bloglines."
The new Yahoo! News (http://beta.news.yahoo.com) has an updated look and much improved navigation that uses tabs to click through to sources and sections. The tagline on the intro screen reads: "More News. More Relevant. More about you." Users can now add any news sources to the news section by selecting RSS feeds. In fact, any source from a user's My Yahoo! page (http://my.yahoo.com) will automatically be added to the Yahoo! News home page. Just as in My Yahoo!, users of Yahoo! News can rearrange the news sections on the front page, add or remove news categories, and specify cities for weather.
In addition, the recently launched Y!Q Search technology lets users click on keywords mentioned in stories to find additional stories, analysis, and opinions on that topic. (See the NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16266.)
In October 2004, Yahoo! launched its My Yahoo! Search beta (http://mysearch.yahoo.com), which lets users save, annotate, and search listings from Yahoo! search result pages. What can be a bit confusing for users now is the number of available Yahoo! sites. They may find themselves asking if they want the generic Yahoo! (which still links to the Web Directory and services like People Search), My Yahoo!, My Yahoo! Search (the personal search beta), Yahoo! Finance, or Yahoo! News (the new or old version).
Google My Search History lets users view and manage their Web search histories from any computer via the links in the upper-right corner of the Google home page and search results pages. Users must have a Google account (through Gmail, Google Groups, Google Alerts, or Froogle), or they must create one for My Search History and be signed in for their search history to be saved. Users can edit or remove specific items from their history' they can also pause the feature and then resume saving. A calendar feature lets you check the searches for a particular day. The service can even show you related searches over time (click on Related History links next to search terms). Useful, but a little spooky.
A number of journalists and bloggers have commented on the privacy issues raised by the service, as they did when Google introduced its Gmail e-mail service. If other people use your computer, or you are paranoid, this is probably not a service for you. Go to http://www.google.com/searchhistory/privacyfaq.html to read a privacy FAQ for the service.
Mark Fleming, writing at WebProNews, called the new Google service " the biggest risk to your searching privacy to date." He observed that the history is stored on Google's servers. He also said that users of Gmail might not realize that their Gmail account is their Google account and that they might be logged into Google.
At this point, MyJeeves is the only Web search service with tagging capabilities to let users categorize their searches, but several bloggers noted that Google My Search History would likely add this—and then would serve up related ads.
Search engine expert Danny Sullivan has prepared a useful chart (http://blog.searchenginewatch.com/blog/050421-070616) that compares the features of various search history tools. It includes four search engines as well as Eurekster, Findory, and Furl.
Writing in SearchDay about the Google service, Chris Sherman commented: "Don't expect Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, MSN or AOL Search to stand still. Personalized search has long been touted as one of the holy grails for the industry. This year the promise is finally being realized in a way that strikes the appropriate balance between useful results and privacy concerns. Beginning today with Google's launch of My Search History, I expect to see major leaps ahead in the arena of personalized search—and that's a good thing."
While choice is good, it may take even experienced searchers some time to try out the new features on the various search engines to get a sense of what works best for them. It may, in fact, force more of a commitment to regularly using one engine because of the investment in time and effort to set up the personalization features. And, that's just what the search engines would like—regular, committed users.