Thursday, April 21, 2005

Google's My Search History

Google has released a beta version My Search History to enable you to “find information you thought you lost.” After you login using your Google Account (e.g., your Gmail login), a search history link will be added to the upper right of the homepage. Clicking on it reveals the searches you performed lately as well as the result(s) you decided to click on. This is Google's long anticipated foray into personalized search, which has much potential to improve our navigation of the Web, but is also fraught with privacy concerns (Google attempts to address some of these concerns in their privacy policy).

While it is helpful that My Search History is an "opt-in" feature, requiring you to login to utilize it, Brad Hill has noted the difficulties in managing multiple logins with a computer that is used by more than one person:
[The login design] inevitably leads to confused histories in households with multiple Gmail accounts. After two days, this has already become an issue in my home, where my wife and I each use Gmail. Another problem with Gmail unlocking MSH is that it’s not easily apparent when MSH is turned on. Yes, there is a My Search History link in the upper-right corner, but who examines the Google home page before launching a search? Even if you do, there is no OFF switch on the home page; you must click through that My Search History link to find an inconspicuous Pause switch.

Google is used so often, by so many people, for so many different things, in such an unthinking manner, that the sudden and mostly invisible documentation of search history is almost subterfuge on Google’s part. You can say “Don’t use it,” but if you check your Gmail or Groups, you ARE using it. Marissa Mayer of Google is quoted in a Wired piece as saying, “This isn’t for someone who is particularly sloppy about signing in and signing off. You have to have very good computer hygiene to use this.” Way too good. Google could have helped by creating non-overlapping accounts. As of now, it is too easy to inadvertantly leave a trail of bread crumbs during your searches, leaving that trail perfectly visible to anyone who sits at the same computer in a home.
He's right - it is too difficult to turn off the recording of my searches. An easy fix would be to place a "pause" button on every single Google search page.

One other immediate suggestion comes to mind: allow users to "group" or even "tag" their searches. While having a calendar of my search history is neat, it would be much more useful if I could easily retrieve all my previous searches related to "privacy" or "New York University" or any other way I wish to categorize them.

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