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Google Aims To Personalize Mobile Search

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Google-aims-to-personalize-mobile-search-11297868.php

Google wants to make its search experience on smartphones more personalized — by showing information based on users’ interests and what’s trending in their area.

The information will appear beneath the search bar on the Google app on Apple and Android devices (eventually, it will be included in Google mobile searches, not just the app). The company will pull information based on what the user searches across Gmail, Search, YouTube and other Google properties. It will also factor in what a user lists on Google calendar.

For example, a user who has searched extensively about biking and has an upcoming trip to Japan may see an article on biking trails in Japan beneath her Google app search bar. In another instance, an avid “Game of Thrones” watcher may see articles about the season premiere.

Google rolled out an early version of this feature, called feed, in December, but it is sending an update Wednesday with improvements to U.S. users. The new version factors in more information across Google properties and allows users to follow certain topics that they can add to their feed.

Some observers drew similarities to Facebook’s News Feed, which allows users to scroll down their home page to see the news articles and photos their friends are posting.

Unlike Facebook’s News Feed, Google’s feed does not base the information it shows on what a user’s friends are posting.

“This feed is really about your interests and what you are doing,” said Ben Gomes, a Google vice president of engineering, at a press briefing Tuesday. “It’s not really about what your friends are interested in.”

Most Google searches today are conducted on mobile phones. Randy Giusto, a lead analyst at advisory firm Outsell Inc., said that as consumer behavior evolves, companies like Google that make money through advertising must also change the way they reach consumers.

“People care about news and information,” Giusto said. “People are consuming more and more news content within Facebook. Google at some point needs to compete at that level.”

To be sure, not all information that a user searches will show up in the feed. Sensitive topics like suicide or rape will not appear, said Shashi Thakur, a vice president of engineering at Google, in an interview.

John Simpson with privacy advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, said he will probably not be using the feed feature because he is reluctant to share his personal information with an online service provider.

“It’s not at all clear to me that the (data) is going to be appropriately used or shared in ways that you would be happy with,” Simpson said.

Google’s Gomes declined to comment Tuesday about ads on feed, though analysts believe ads will be added. Google is expected to snap up 32 percent of U.S. mobile ad revenue this year, followed by Facebook’s nearly 25 percent, according to research firm eMarketer.

Abhishek Dubey, an assistant professor of computer science at Vanderbilt University, said Google’s move is part of a larger effort by tech companies to build personal assistants for consumers to rely on. The more time consumers spend using the services — in this case, Google’s — the more money the company in question may make, through the sale of devices or ads, Dubey said.

“Whoever can keep us engaged more wins,” he said.

 

Wendy Lee is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: wlee@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @thewendylee