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Google could allow users to alter search results

New Social search engine on the way?

Web users may be given the chance to re-rank and comment on Google's search results.

The search engine has already run public tests on its search-results pages that contain up and down arrows next to listed links, as well as buttons that allow users to append comments to results.

"At this point, I can't say what we expect from this feature; we're just curious to see how it will be used," said Ben Gomes, a Google Distinguished Engineer, in the company's official blog.

A screenshot of one of these test pages also shows 'x' buttons next to results to apparently remove them from view, although this isn't addressed by Gomes.

New Google search

Incorporating these as default features in the search engine would be a significant step by the company in giving people power to interact with its search-results pages.

Google has often been criticised for having a search engine that depends too much on mathematical algorithms while giving little room for users to offer feedback and contribute to the process of rating, ranking and evaluating results. These knocks have become more and more common as the popularity of web 2.0 services has grown, since they all champion the building of user communities.

As a reaction to the Google approach, a variety of search engine projects have emerged over the years that attempt to give people more participation, such as Jason Calacanis' Mahalo, Yahoo's Delicious social bookmarking service and Jimmy Wales' Wikia Search.

At Wikia Search, for example, anyone, whether registered with the site or not, can add, delete and rate search results, as well as edit the content of a search result URL by modifying its headline and description. In true wiki fashion, changes are reflected immediately and don't go through an approval process, counting on the community to police itself and establish, at least in theory, its collective wisdom.

It's not known whether Google would factor the rearranging of results by users into the overall computation for ranking results for those specific queries. It's also not clear whether search result comments would be made available to anyone to read.

"Unfortunately, because the examples he [Gomes] provides are still only experiments, we cannot talk in length about how they work. Right now we are experimenting with a number of factors so we can't really explain how the final product would work," a Google spokeswoman said.

Gomes added: "We test almost everything, even things that you would think are so small that we could not possibly care - nor could they possibly matter. In fact, small changes do matter, and we do care".


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