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Which Would You Rather Get Personal With: Google or Yahoo?

Google and Yahoo make the search engine waters a little muddier, introducing almost identical personalized Web products within a week of each other.

Search giant Yahoo introduced enhanced features for its My Yahoo personal search service just days after Google’s announcement of its My Search History tool. These recent developments in personalized search raise the question: Which personalized service should you go with? One simple answer: Both.

Yahoo and Google both offer their new features for free, requiring only that you register with their respective services. Logically, users can and should test drive features from both providers before determining which they want to stick with permanently. There are, of course, a number of similar and distinctive features characteristic to both that search users should consider when deciding.

Both providers have implemented a “search history” feature that lets users track Web searches and pages viewed from past search results. While My Search History only saves and displays a bold-faced, linked term, the My Web Page feature from Yahoo saves cached pages of Web site results and Web sites visited from previous searches. When activated both features are tied directly into the search engine, with buttons designating whether a personalized search or a general search query should be initiated.

The My Search History page is understated, as is typical for Google. But Google livens it up with its calendar feature that contains a color-coded search frequency meter that keeps users informed of their search activity. There is even a time stamp of the most recent click-throughs. And if users want certain searches to simply disappear, they have the ability to “pause” the feature, delete searches from their search history or turn the service off and use the general Google search tool.

The My Web page is slightly more aesthetically pleasing, but still holds true to the sentiment that a good product speaks for itself. To start, Yahoo lets users integrate existing Yahoo Bookmarks and IE favorites to their My Web. My Web also lets users share their My Web pages via e-mail and IM. Users can even create their own blog of My Web pages for public viewing, and it provides users with the tools to publish links in RSS format.

And to protect users’ privacy when using the search history feature, users must be signed on to the service and specifically push the “Start” button to save a search. To deactivate the feature, users simply click the “Off” button. Additionally, saved searches can be deleted from the My Web page.

But concerns with privacy are probably a moot point anyhow since both services make no secret of the fact that they disclose certain information gathered from personalized services to “provide anonymous information for internal and external client” (Yahoo). Though neither provider distributes personal information about their users (and thereby violating federal laws), they can use the anonymous or aggregate data collected on users to sell targeted advertising to well-paying advertisers, without a users’ approval.

These are not the first personalized search tools. Ask Jeeves, AOL, Google, Yahoo and MSN — which was the first to make a public stab at personalized search in 1999 — have all introduced personalized search features. But none, previously, has offered searches that are integrated directly into the search engine itself as the My Search History and My Web services are.

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