Personalization: Google’s Defensible Trump Card?

A thought that came up in a conversation with Michael Ferguson, Ask’s usability guy (which is probably why I like talking to him. He always greases the mental machinery) was Google’s defensible position that personalization offers.

Google is betting the farm on personalization. And really, they’re possibly the only search engine that can make this work. Here are the required components:

  • A high enough degree of additional user value to convince people to opt in to personalization. As I’ve talked about before, that’s why it’s being rolled out in organic search first. Expect a slew of other value adds in the near future, all powered by personalization and all aimed and getting you to hit the opt in box.
  • An extensive network so you can maintain multiple touch points for the delivery of targeted advertising. Nobody has a bigger network that Google’s AdSense network
  • Critical mass amongst users. With Google’s almost 65% market share and the highest penetration of installed tool bars (42% plus in a recent B to B study we did), Google also has the required components to tap into a significant slice of the available market. And future Gadgets and tools will likely either require personalization to be turned on, or will provide an enhanced level of functionality when they are. Expect Google to get aggressive with forcing adoption in the next year or so.

It came to light when I was talking to Michael about Ask’s algo and whether personalization will play a part (by the way, this is part of an interview that will be on Search Engine Land next week). After the interview, I realized it’s not an option for Ask, at least not at the level that Google’s contemplating. Even if they did move to personalization, they just don’t own enough of the total online user experience to push them to opt into personalization. They’d never gain the critical mass needed to make it work.

Microsoft has an outside chance through Messenger, but it would be a long shot. Yahoo also has a long shot at it (although better than Microsoft’s) but they’d have to start gaining market share, and there are a number of huge obstacles in their way. Google is by far the best bet to force personalization on the market and have it be adopted at significant rates.

So what are the options for the other engines? Well, again, there’s an interesting twist there as well. One thing that’s touted heavily by the contenders is social search. I have severe doubts about the scalability of anything that requires a human element, and I’ve written about this in the past. But then I realized that personalization gives Google social search in a way that others just can’t touch.

If Google is collecting both web and search history, they’re collecting implicit votes for the quality of every property on the web. They create their own community, and with every click, that community votes for the quality and relevance of every site they visit. It’s social search in a very powerful and completely transparent form. In this form, social search requires no additional action on the part of the user (one of the critical risk areas of social search) and is completely scalable, because there’s no human bottleneck (the other critical risk area).

The more I think about personalization, the more I think that Google has just trumped the entire search space…again.

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