Google makes bad usability to get user data?


Google’s search result page is now a wiki
Google has the introduced a new service that they call the Search Wiki.
The service allows a user (logged into his Google account) to:

1.  rearrange the order in which Google search result items appear,
2.  remove search result items and
3.  comment items and read other user’s comments.
4. In addition, the user can add his own items in the shape of URL’s to a given search result.

Here’s an example of a search for Barack Obama. The items can be moved up or removed. The top item has a green arrow because I moved it to the top spot. It can be moved down the list again, but for some reason it cannot be removed entirely ( a bug?). Clicking the bubble opens a comment slot.

The changes made by the user will remain and appear on future searches only if the user is logged in. Also, the changes will only be visible to the user himself and will not influence other users’ search results.

Bad usability in exchange for user data?
The remove item feature seems to be usable, but its a bit unclear what the point of being able to rearrange items is. Google does not mention whether they’ll be using the data about users’ rearranging activities to improve searchs result in general, only that the they now do offer the rearrange feature.

From my point of view, this is useless customisation. There is no real value in being able to move search result items around.

I do, however, expect Google to be smarter than this. There’s real value to be had about user preferences in the way people rearrange or remove items – and I’m pretty sure that the Google folks  are collecting such data in order to improve their general search feature.

Actually, they may also be looking to use it for their personalised search feature. Personalised search is an interesting Google feature living outside the spotlight. Occasionally – and only if your are using the English Google, I believe – you’ll notice a small message in the top right side of the screen, saying: “Personalized based on your web history”.


This is a potentially very smart feature: over time, a search engine can get collect a pretty good profile of users’ preferences through search activity analysis and use it to filter away noise and ambiguity from search results – all without direct user interaction.

But of course, its even better if you can cheat users to send more feedback by employing a Search Wiki service.

Comments as link meta data
The comments feature seems to be a bit more usable. One of the problems with links is that you don’t know whats behind them. Annotated links are conceptually good because you can use them to make an informed decision about whether to actually click or not.

But then again – what happens when you have 634 comments on a link? Or – as is the case with the top item for a Google search for Barack Obama – that you get comments like:



“this function rocks!”

“Yes we did!”

“Very nice website”


“Mr. President”

One of the comments, though, was quite usable: “modern website for an innovative leader. you’ll find all his social networks including flickr and youtube there (check out the backstage pics and videos)”.

Have a look at the comments yourself

Back to the Labs
Overall, this is an interesting Google experiment. The overall purpose is quite unclear, especially because people in general not are inclined to customise – even when the benefits are more evident than in this case – and I am sure Google knows this. There is no doubt that Search Wiki will get a lot of interest because its a Google service, but in the long run I’m quite sure that it’ll return to the Labs for dismantling. This said, I am sure Google will get heaps of good behavioral data to put back into their search engine from the experiment.

See also:

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