The Perils of Personalized Search


Personalized Search crept, uninhibited, into our lives for much of the past decade.

What was once a Google lab experiment, is now one of the most influential functionalities on the internet. Is there such thing as too much personalization? The general population seems to think not. However, morality and technology are often worlds apart. What is convenient is not always in our best interest.   A google search logo

Personalization forever changed the way we view the internet. In doing so, it may change the way we see the world. Say what!?

Let's take a look at the facts before we jump straight to philosophy. Google pioneered personalized search. In 2004, Google's Personalized Search was officially released at a test version. Five years later, it was unleashed to the masses. Much to my surprise, this potentially invasive advancement barely received media attention, let alone public awareness. Less than 50 news articles and blogs posts were written about personalized search in the days following its release. In contrast, upwards of 1,000 articles were written about a relatively minor change to Google's First Click Free Program. However, if Facebook taught us anything (besides where our ex-girlfriend really was last night), it's that people don't really flinch when it comes to discreet privacy invasion.

With little recognition, Google began generating data on everyone, logged in or out. When an individual performs a search, the results are based on web pages with relevant content, in addition to the user's web history. It takes into consideration previously visited sites, purchases, search inquiries... the list goes on. Google uses 57 different signals to calibrate your search results.

So okay, this doesn't seem so bad? Google is helping me, help myself, by instantly providing me with sites it believes I want to look at. What about the things I don't know I want to look at or the things I don't want to see but maybe should? Constant affirmation doesn't bring out the intellect in anyone. Democrats are being fed Democratic articles and Republicans are fed Republican news based on their web histories. Most people aren't even aware this is happening. It's possible the internet transformed from an invention that brought us together to a mechanism that can tear us apart?

Personalized search is not only contentious for political/religious dinner conversation, it's also is hard on Search Engine Optimization or SEO. While SEO experts are hard at work (us included) defining keywords, generating credible links, and analyzing analytics, personalized search demands SEO tactics rapidly evolve. SEO must keep up with an ever-changing search algorithm. It's definitely possible to have successful SEO in spite of personalization, but it requires serious committment to the craft. 

All technology results from a desire for increased effciency and convenience. Personalized search eliminates websites that may be a waste of our time. Therefore it is a sound technological progression. Nevertheless, be aware of it's influence and take results with a grain of salt. It's highly convenient to see food, clothes, and music that we already love on the first page of search results, but what about the band we've never heard of?

Take a walk on the wild side. Disable your personalization for a day. You don't know what you're missing, until you realize what's missing.