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Ask Jeeves Personal Search Goes Live

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Ask Jeeves released its new personal search service today, My Jeeves, with features that let you easily track your searches over time, organize them into folders and save the sites you've visited.

Gary's got a full write-up in today's SearchDay on those features and other changes: Ask Jeeves Serves It Your Way. I wanted to add a bit more from my perspective.

The heart of both Ask's new features and those a9 rolled out last week is the ability to save what you've searched for and found. I love seeing the return of this to the major players.

Return? Yes, because MSN had exactly this type of feature back in 1999 (see my Internet Explorer 5 Makes Search Easier article). Sadly, the feature was withdrawn the following year. This was because searchers weren't making much use of it.

Why should things be any different for those searching at a9 and Ask Jeeves now? In a9's case, searches are saved automatically. That's a plus, though also worrisome. As I wrote for the Eurekster personal search launch earlier this year, having the default NOT to save searches might help preserve privacy.

Over at Ask, that's how it works. Nothing is saved unless you explicitly choose to do so. Downside? People might not make use of the feature. However, I find the little "save" links next to each description very intuitive. I think they'll catch on.

Upside? Those with search privacy worries feel better, as user testing showed Ask Jeeves.

"This comes out of consumers who thought that was icky [automatically saving things]. They said, 'Don't do that unless I tell you'," said Jim Lanzone, senior vice president of search properties at Ask Jeeves.

Keep in mind that you don't need to register to start saving things at Ask Jeeves, which is great. But this also means you'll lose data, if you delete the cookie on your computer or it is somehow otherwise corrupted. So if you really get into the search history feature, you'd better make an account.

Why has it taken so long for one of the majors to bring back saved searches? For its part, Lanzone had a pretty honest answer on behalf of Ask.

"This was the first we could actually get around to doing it as a business," he said. The company's much smaller than players like Google and Yahoo.

Lanzone also thinks the industry as a whole is evolving to catch-up with the experiment MSN initially tried.

"A few years ago people were still making the claim that as people became more mature as web users, they would use search less, because they knew the web better. The opposite has happened. As search gets better, as broadband comes in, people search more. More successful searches give you more confidence. Search is become the gateway to all that information," Lanzone said.

Search history fits into that gateway idea. It effectively grows as a permanent map to your travels across the web. It also helps the search companies in an increasingly competitive market further lock you into their services.

No doubt we'll see Yahoo, Google, MSN and AOL all bring out similar search history features in the future -- or search workspace, as a good word Jeremy Zawodny's coined. Logistically, it's not hard to set these up. And competitively, it's something they'll all have to follow with.

It's also important to keep in mind that so far, "personal search" for Ask Jeeves and a9 only extends to letting you track search history, not to actually reshaping your results in the way Eurekster does.

Actual personal search, where relevancy is impacted, has yet to come to any of the major search engines as part of their regular search results (for more, see my Is It Really Personalized Search? article). Even Google's personal search remains a tucked away beta project.

Lastly, it's cool that you can search through all your favorite pages saved with Ask Jeeves. But that's not as good as being able to pick a number of entire web sites that you'd like to build a custom search around. Hopefully, one of the majors will bring this feature out. Ask itself is working on this and expect to release it in a matter of months.

Want to discuss issues raised in this post? Got a number of relevant threads in our forums for you:

Also see Gary's Don't Forget Findory post that covers some of the interesting news personalization it offers.


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