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All Google Search Results are Not the Same

Did you know what you see in a Google search result can be completely different to what someone else will see?

For example when I look for a recipe I tend to click on pages with¬†www.bbc.co.uk/food in the search results because in the past I’ve found the site has really good content. Google will monitor this behaviour and over time will rank BBC Food higher in future recipe searches. So even though recipes from www.taste.com.au might have greater weight because I’m searching from within Australia Google will bump content from BBC Food nearer the top of my search results because it knows I like that site.

Previously this kind of search was only available to users that were signed into Google but now (for the past two years actually) results are customised for you based upon 180 days of search activity fed to Google by an anonymous cookie in your browser*.

Personalisation is possibly the future of how we view information on the web. Services like FaceBook filter our news feed based on what we “Like”, Amazon tell us what books we might like to read and Twitter suggests who we should follow.¬†Political Activist Eli Pariser warned that personalised search results and other customised content will limit our exposure to information and narrow our view. So even though it might be useful that I’m getting the right cupcake recipe from BBC Food I’m constantly being fed information that is relevant to me creating my own private information universe. The real danger being that I will not get exposed to viewpoints different from my own.

Personalised search means nearly every result returned within a browser is modified in one way or another. It is rare that two different people on Earth will ever see the exact same set of search results. However, even though Google uses complex algorithms and A.I. to collate billions of web pages to give you the most relevant results interpreting this information and making the final decision of what to click on still lies with you the user.

Can algorithms provide a balanced mix of results?

Can algorithms provide a balanced mix of results?

*If you want to turn off Google’s personalisation you can find out how to via this article Turning off search history personalisation.

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