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Getting Personal

Take a closer look at the up-and-coming personalized search engine.

Google revolutionized the search industry. Is another revolution on the way? You bet. Do a current search for the word java on any search engine, and the top results will probably include information on java software technology. That's great if you're a programmer; however, if you're interested in visiting the island or if you're a coffee connoisseur, those results are irrelevant. Enter personalized search.

"It has a fabulous effect on how businesses market," says Jennifer Laycock, editor of Laycock explains that entrepreneurs may achieve a higher ranking, as personalized search results localize and target the outcome. For example, an independent coffee store might get top ranking over software sites or even competing chains like Starbucks.

Essentially, these search engines understand users' intentions based on many variables, such as their locations, past search queries and personal interests, and filter the results accordingly. Andy Beal, vice president of search marketing for internet marketing company WebSourced Inc.and editor of, foresees the next leap in personalized search taking place through the development of desktop search technology, on which Apple, Google, Microsoft and startup Blinkx have begun making headway.

Laycock remains skeptical, however, about whether users will relinquish their privacy for the sake of better search results. One way users voluntarily provide information is by entering a profile into a search engine; the other method is through Beal's assertion of desktop search technology, which scans the contents of the user's hard drive, including music preferences, e-mail content, Word documents and the like, to build a better profile. Obviously, this raises major privacy concerns, and user participation is a whole other issue, but as Beal points out, "We can't possibly type a one-word phrase into a search engine and expect it to know exactly what result we're looking for unless we can give it more information."

For now, more companies are jumping into the mix, including'snew search engine,, Ask Jeeves and Yahoo!. If you weren't into personalized search before, wake up and smell the java, because this revolution is coming.

This story appears in the February 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »