Do Personalized Search Engines Limit the Web Experience?

Lately there has been a lot of hype around the personalized search experience. In a world where we want everything from our cars to our martinis custom tailored to our personal preferences, is customizing the search engine taking things just a little too far?

After all, isn’t the whole purpose of a search engine to help us find stuff? If we limit a search engine’s results, aren’t we really limiting our web experience and potentially blocking ourselves off from a world of valuable resources?

Nevertheless, several companies are making moves to incorporate our tendency to prefer things that are custom tailored to our liking into the search engine market.

A few of the front runners include PSS!, Eurekster’s Swicki and Rollyo.

PSS! or Personal Search Syndication is currently a free service that allows you to create and customize personalized search engines that are tailored to a specific subject matter. Basically, once you setup an engine for your topic of interest, you create your own database of documents pertaining to this interest. From there, you and others who may share an interest in this topic, can search for information among the documents you have pre-selected, up to 1,000 total documents maximum.

Swiki takes this concept a little further by incorporating the community aspect of the Wiki. You still create a custom search engine around a particular topic of interest, but from there your entire community gets involved in controlling the results and creating a “cloud” of wisdom and popular search queries around that topic. The level of community involvement, as with all wikis is determined by the creator and the amount of control they are willing to grant others, and truly holds the key to the strength of Swiki results.

Rollyo, another free service, is slightly different in that it allows you to create a “search roll” which consists of up to 25 different sites that you pre select as being especially relevant or authoritative on a particular topic. Fed by Yahoo! search results, your search queries are then limited to the sites you have previously established (there is an option that will allow Rollyo to go beyond your list of sites if you opt for this) bringing you the most relevant sponsored, news and general web results. The flexibility of Rollyo is that once you have created a custom search roll, you can then share it with others by incorporating it into your site or blog.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the benefit of all of these services. And I wouldn’t have included them in this blog post if I didn’t; they deserve some credit for what they are doing. But if there is one thing I can always count on, it is that my nature will force me to ask what lurks beneath the surface.

When it comes to personalized search engines, I have to ask myself a few questions right away.

  • Do they limit our web experience by regurgitating the old standby sources that we have a natural tendency to go to first anyways?
  • Do they keep us from broadening our horizons by limiting the likelihood that we will explore the world of resources we are not already familiar with?
  • Does interest in personalized search services and their current success somehow speak to the perception of traditional search engine’s relevancy?

These are all questions that I have not fully explored for myself yet.

What are your thoughts?