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Personalized Search

Personalized Search: A Contextual Computing Approach May Prove a Breakthrough in Personalized Search Efficiency


James Pitkow, Hinrich Schuetze, Todd A. Cass, Rob Cooley, Don Turnbull, Andy Edmonds, Eytan Adar, et al.


A contextual computing approach may prove a breakthrough in personalized search efficiency.


Contextual computing refers to the enhancement of a user’s interactions by understanding the user, the context, and the applications and information being used, typically across a wide set of user goals. Contextual computing is not just about modeling user preferences and behavior or embedding computation everywhere, it’s about actively adapting the computational environment – for each and every user – at each point of computation. (p 50)

The Outride system was designed to be a generalized architecture for the personalization of search across a variety of information ecologies.(p 52)

Search Engine - Average Task Completion Time in Seconds

While the results may seem overwhelmingly in favor of Outride, there are some issues to interpret. First, some of the scenarios contained tasks directly supported by the functionality provided by the Outride system, creating an advantage against the other search engines. Indeed, Outride features are specifically designed to understand users, provide support by the conceptual model and tasks users employ to search the Web, and to contextualize the application of search. This is the goal of contextual computing and why personalizing search makes sense.

Second, while the use of default profiles could have provided an advantage for Outride, it also could have negatively influenced the outcome, as the profile did not represent the test participants’ actual surfing pat- terns, nor were the participants intimately familiar with the content of the profiles. Third, some of the gains are likely due to the user interface since the Outride sidebar remains visible to users across all interac- tions, helping to preserve context and provide quick access to core search features. For example, while search engines require users to navigate back and forth between the list of search results and specific Web pages, Outride preserves context by keeping the search results open in the sidebar of the Web browser, making the contents of each search result accessible to the user with a single click. Still, the magnitude of the difference between the Outride system and the other engines is compelling, especially given that most search engines are less than 10% better than one another. (p 54)


information retrieval, search, information seeking, relevance feedback, personalization, contextual computing, user interfaces, search process

Cite As

Pitkow, J., Schutze, H., Cass, T., Cooley, R., Turnbull, D., Edmonds, A., et al. (2002). Personalized Search: A Contextual Computing Approach May Prove a Breakthrough in Personalized Search Efficiency. Communications of the ACM, 45(9), 50-55.

References in this publication

  • Anderson, J.R. Cognitive Psychology and Its Implications. Freeman, San Francisco, CA, 1980.
  • eTesting Labs. Google Web Search Engine Evaluation; www.etestinglabs.com/main/reports/google.asp
  • Pirolli, P. and Card, S.K. Psychological Review 106, 4 (1999), 643–675.
  • Gerard Salton , Michael J. McGill, Introduction to Modern Information Retrieval, McGraw-Hill, Inc., New York, NY, 1986

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