Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism: Diagnosing the mechanisms of personalisation

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I'm very happy, our new paper on the personalization of search results is out now. To our knowledge, it's the first to do empirical research in a systematic way on how personalized results actually differ from non-personalized results and interpret the results within a critical framework.

First Monday > Volume 16, Number 2 - 7 February 2011
Personal Web searching in the age of semantic capitalism: Diagnosing the mechanisms of personalisation.
Martin Feuz, Matthew Fuller, Felix Stalder


Web search engines have become indispensable tools for finding information online effectively. As the range of information, context and users of Internet searches has grown, the relationship between the search query, search interest and user has become more tenuous. Not all users are seeking the same information, even if they use the same query term. Thus, the quality of search results has, at least potentially, been decreasing. Search engines have begun to respond to this problem by trying to personalise search in order to deliver more relevant results to the users. A query is now evaluated in the context of a user’s search history and other data compiled into a personal profile and associated with statistical groups. This, at least, is the promise stated by the search engines themselves. This paper tries to assess the current reality of the personalisation of search results. We analyse the mechanisms of personalisation in the case of Google web search by empirically testing three commonly held assumptions about what personalisation does. To do this, we developed new digital methods which are explained here. The findings suggest that Google personal search does not fully provide the much-touted benefits for its search users. More likely, it seems to serve the interest of advertisers in providing more relevant audiences to them.

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