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Google Gets Real-Time, Personalized Search

Posted by: Douglas Macmillan on December 7, 2009

Even small changes to the world’s most-used search engine inevitably affect how hundreds of millions of people use the Web. In the past few days, Google introduced two big features which could have major implications for the future of online search and for the company’s evolving relationship to a handful of emerging rivals.

Google Real Time Search, first announced during a Monday event at California’s Computer History Museum, merges the frequent updates made by users of social sites Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace with Google’s general Web search results. This means that if you’re looking for information on events that are unfolding quickly — such as a sporting event or an earthquake — you can scan through messages posted in the last few minutes rather than news articles or Web sites that are already outdated. (And don’t worry, Google only plans to include public messages from Facebook Pages rather than the private status updates that make up the bulk of the social networking site.)

Google had to strike deals with each of these companies to make the real-time feature possible, but it’s a maneuver many believe will help the search giant compete with these very players. Before, the best way to find out how the general public feels about a speech from President Obama, for example, was to scan through Twitter — now the upstart microblogging service has one less advantage to boast.

The announcement also may affect the do-si-do between Google and News Corp., which has threatened in recent weeks to prevent its stories from showing up on Google. As Google watcher Danny Sullivan points out in a post, it’s unclear why the parent of MySpace is willing to give up data from the social network while at the same time being so protective of its journalism.

Last Friday, Google quietly rolled out a feature which may have even greater impact on Web users — though many are unlikely to notice. With something the company calls Personalized Search, Google will start showing different search results for different users, depending on which links they have clicked the most in the past. In theory this means that eventually, a car lover and a zoologist typing “jaguar” into the search field will wind up with two different sets of search results.

Search tailored to individuals will no doubt make Google more useful. But what will it do to advertisers? Businesses that have spent years and millions of dollars optimizing their Web sites for search may find themselves gradually shoved out of the top 10 listings for choosy Web surfers who prefer non-commercial pages like Wikipedia and LinkedIn. Ultimately, businesses could decide to spend less money juicing their placement in “organic results” and more on the paid search ads from which Google derives the bulk of its revenues.

Reader Comments


December 8, 2009 2:14 AM

most people do not sign in or let google save their search history so ur question on potential worrying by advertisers is moot

Sakria Wood

December 8, 2009 7:18 AM

“… a famous landmark such as the Itsukushima Shrine” … I found this to be a hilariously vague example. And I agree with previous comments: I don’t think I need Google to index Facebook statuses. Statii?


December 8, 2009 12:23 PM

I wouldn't go as far as to say that most people do not sign in to Google. The first thing I do when I turn on my computer is read my email, which involves signing into Gmail. From then Google won't sign out until I turn my computer off. I know many other people who do the same thing; that have igoogle or gmail as their homepage. So just because you don't sign in, doesn't mean that most people don't. I think this sounds like a great idea. Sakira says that Google shouldn't index Facebook status. If you read the article you would know that they weren't planning to, only public posts like sports scores and news stories that were emphasized throughout the article.


December 8, 2009 4:48 PM

"...most people do not sign in or let google save their search history so ur question on potential worrying by advertisers is moot.."

Sorry "J", you are wrong, Google's new Personalized Search tracks users whether they are logged in or not.

Google, (and other Google owned properties like YouTube, Doubleclick, Adscape, Android, FeedBurner, Postini, reCAPTCHA, and anything ties to GoogleSynication, Adsense / Adwords, etc), may all set cookies on a user's browser regardless of whether they are signed into a Google account or not.

Google has made this an "opt out" feature, meaning it will track you unless you specifically set it not to -- and that setting only lasts until you delete Google cookies -- then you are "opted in" again.

Most people are not so worried about advertiser issues as they are privacy issues.

Using the cookies, web history, actual searches, your IP address, and info from any Google account you do sign into give Google an incredible amount of personal information about you -- and if you do sign in, it is no longer "anonymous data", but data they hold which is tied directly to your name / email account.

There is a thread with over 200 comments about this at


December 8, 2009 6:20 PM

Regarding the notion that "SEO" techniques will be obsoleted by Personalized Search, cry me a river! I'll get more relevant results and less results that only rank where they do thanks to some gray & black hat techniques to game the system in order to deliver their often irrelevant and sometimes fraudulent sites. Darn.

Troy Ayers

December 27, 2009 2:31 PM

I use google for absolutely everything. I'm glad they are finally coming out with real time search tho. Personalized search is the way to go.

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Justin Lewis

January 10, 2010 5:17 PM

I have used google search for almost all of my searching for the past 4 years and literally, they are doing an outstanding job. I can't wait for personalized search to get even better!

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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