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Search engines could soon make better use of your search history to fine-tune the results you see.

In two new papers being presented at this week’s Fourth ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining, researchers from Microsoft offer novel ways for search engines to offer personalized results.

Personalization promises to help search engines deliver results that are more likely to be clicked. Someone who searches for recipes a lot, for example, might want to see results for the term “apple” that are different from the results expected by a fan of Mac computers.

Search engines already use certain clues, such as a person’s geographical location or whether she is searching on a phone or PC, to offer more personalized results. Google goes a step further by mining a person’s past searches, if they have enabled a feature called Web History; and Bing is experimenting with using data collected via a user’s Facebook account to improve search results.

But personalized search is far from perfect. For one thing, trying to predict too much can make search results overly narrow—only returning pages relevant to recipes, for example. And many users are hostile to the idea of search engines using their search history. The new research suggests ways for search engines to experiment with more personalization without skewing results or alienating users.

Jaime Teevan, a researcher at Microsoft, says search engines could start by using personalization to direct users to sites they’ve visited before. It turns out that more than 25 percent of all search queries aren’t about discovering new information at all—they’re meant to navigate to information and websites that people have already visited.

“Nobody bookmarks,” Teevan says. Instead, many people use search queries to find sites they’ve already seen. Teevan has been working on an algorithm that can determine when someone is using a search engine for this purpose.  The algorithm, developed by Teevan and colleagues Daniel Liebling and Gayathri Geetha, can predict which search result a user will choose for about a sixth of the queries that a search engine receives.

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Tagged: Web, privacy, search, algorithms, personalization

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