Google Personal Custom Search Engines?

A couple of days ago, I gave a talk about possible future library services, and in passing mentioned the way that my Google search results are increasingly personalised. Martin picked up on this in a conversation over coffee, and then in a blog post (“Your search is valuable to us“):

This made me think that your search history is actually valuable, because the results you get back are a product of the hours you have invested in previous searches and the subject expertise in utilising search terms. So, if you are an expert in let’s say, Alaskan oil fields, and have been researching this area for years, then the Google results you get back for a search on possible new oil fields will be much more valuable than the results anyone else would get.

[I]f you can assemble and utilise the expert search of a network of people, then you can create a socially powered search which is very relevant for learners. Want to know about really niche debates in evolution? We’ve utilised Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones and Matt Ridley’s search history to give you the best results. Or if you prefer, the search is performed as the aggregation of a specialist community.

There are more than a few patents in this area of course (you can get a feel for what the search engines are (thinking about) doing in this area by having a read through these SEO by the SEA posts on “search+history+personal”), but I was wondering:

how easy would it be to expose my personal search history reranking filter (or whatever it is that Google uses) as a custom search engine (under my privacy controls, of course)?

As Martin says (and as we discussed over coffee), you’d want to disable further personalisation of your CSE by users who aren’t you (to get round the Amazon equivalent of Barbie doll and My Little Pony “items for you” recommendations I seem to get after every Christmas!), but exposing the personal search engine would potentially be a way of exposing a valuable commodity.

In the context of the Library, rather going to the Library website and looking up the books by a particular author, or going to ORO and looking up a particular author’s papers, you might pull their personalised search engine off the shelf and use that for a bit of a topic related Googling…

In a comment to Martin’s post, Laura suggests “Aren’t the search results that the expert actually follows up and bookmarks more powerful? Every academic should be publishing the RSS feeds for their social bookmarks, classified by key terms. The user can choose to filter these according to the social rating of the URL and aggregate results from a group of experts according to their reputation in their field and their online expertise in finding valuable sources.”

I guess this amounts to a social variant of the various “deliSearch” search engines out there, that let you run a search over a set of bookmarked pages or domains (see Search Hubs and Custom Search at ILI2007, for example, or these random OUseful posts on delicious powered search etc)?

At times like these, I sometimes wish I’d put a little more effort into searchfeedr (example: searching some of my delicious bookmarks tagged “search’ for items on “personal search”). I stopped working on searchfeedr before the Google CSE really got going, so it’d be possible to build a far more powerful version of it now…

Anyway, that’s maybe something else to put on the “proof-of-concept to do” list…

PS Note to self – also look at “How Do I?” instructional video search engine to see how easy it would be to embed videos in the results…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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