Google SearchWiki To Customize Search Results

While Google users cannot alter the search results for others, their notes and votes are publicly viewable.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

November 21, 2008

3 Min Read

In a move to deepen user engagement and enhance ad revenue potential, Google is opening up its search results to annotation, alteration, and public comment.

Google on Thursday launched SearchWiki, a way to customize search results as they appear to one specific Google Account. Users can rerank search results, delete them, add new ones, and maintain notes about specific sites.

"With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site," Google product manager Cedric Dupont and software engineer Corin Anderson explain in a blog post. "You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don't feel belong. These modifications will be shown to you every time you do the same search in the future. SearchWiki is available to signed-in Google users."

While Google users cannot alter the search results for others, their notes and votes are publicly viewable. Were Google to choose to add some structure to its emerging search forum, it could leverage user reviews of sites to build a competitor to Yelp or any other site that relies on user-generated content.

Firefox users have had access to similar features for years through the Customize Google browser extension. Customize Google allows users to alter the Google search results page by removing ads, adding links to other search engines, adding numbers to specify search result rank, filtering results, adding links to the Internet Archives, anonymizing their Google cookie ID, and many other things.

But Customize Google doesn't have any community-oriented features. By allowing searchers to see what others are saying about a specific search term, the associated site, and how it's ranking it, Google is likely to see users remain on its search results page for a longer period of time and click on more ads. It's also likely to earn the ire of corporate public relations personnel, who may now have to take time out of their Wikipedia scrubbing to keep on top of what Google users are saying about their organizations.

The public availability of information about how people skew their Google results is also likely to spur developers to figure out how to scrape and aggregate this data. A developer could use this information, for example, to create a Firefox plug-in that will rerank Google search results based on the votes listed in SearchWiki.

At the very least, Google will be paying attention to the alterations its users make, in case that data can be used to increase the relevancy of its search results.

Microsoft has been testing a similar feature called U Rank.

Google's SearchWiki isn't yet available to all Google users. As is typical with Google service rollouts, it may take several hours or days before SearchWiki becomes available in a given area.

The company's video provides further information:

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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