Google Search Adds History Feature

Remember that Web search you did a few days ago where you found a great list of sites for reasonable airfares, summer camps, or printer prices? No? Well a new Internet search service currently being beta tested by Google will.

The new service, available to users who want to try out a more personalized type of Web search, provides a search history with full text search capability of all the pages the user has found previously using Google.

The service, which has also inspired some privacy fears, also offers relevant history while users search, management of users’ search history, and “intuitive browsing,” which Google explained as employing search history to help with current searches and also suggesting previous results that might be relevant to a new search.

“This feature of Google Web search enables you to find information you thought you lost,” Google said on its site, where users can sign up for an account and try out the beta software. “And over time, you’ll see an increasing number of relevance indicators in your search results that help you find the information you want.”

Search Past and Present

Google said its new “My Search History” feature stores users’ search histories on the company’s servers, enabling users to access their histories from any computer.

The search history itself is searchable, and users can look up the latest date and time that they saw a page, how often they’ve seen it, and check a calendar to navigate to any day of their search history.

IDC analyst Sue Feldman told TechNewsWorld the new service, which is part of a move toward more personalized searches she calls “search in context,” may help users get better results and conduct better searches. The analyst said many users do not ask the right questions or use the right keywords with search engines.

“As soon as your history statistics are being kept, it gives (the search) better context,” she said.

Feldman said particularly for the enterprise, where workers might be Web searching on personal matters, the service will be useful keeping employees honest and delivering results in context.

However, she also pointed out some issues with the beta service, including the difficulty of dealing with people’s different modes — professional, hobby, family, or other.

“That could actually confuse the search engine if it introduced more ambiguity,” she said.

Privacy and Progress

Feldman also noted that privacy issues obviously arise when any company is keeping a history of users’ Internet activity.

In an attempt to allay some of these fears, Google posted a “Frequently Asked Questions” page on its Web site this week describing how users can manage and delete their search history with the service. However, the company also reportedly indicated that users must be aware of their sign-in status in order for this to be effective and noted that their search histories would be used by Google to optimize and impact searches.

Basex chief executive officer and analyst Jonathan Spira told TechNewsWorld Google has certainly put protections in place. But users need to know how and when to use them.

“It’s voluntary, you have to turn it on, Google said you have to be careful about signing in and out, you can pause, and you can remove records to delete them,” he said. However, Spira advised: “If you are concerned about privacy, don’t opt in for this feature.”

On the other hand, Spira said the service’s ability to use history to suggest other results marks a step in the right direction for search.

“The ability to personalize search is something that is the next logical step in creating a more perfect search environment,” he said.

While the analyst indicated other search competitors may make similar moves if the response to Google’s beta history service is positive, he said there is also value in waiting.

“A wait-and-see approach might be good here,” he said. “Why risk a privacy backlash if you don’t have to?”

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