Google gives users a say on search results

Google today launched a major update to its search engine by allowing users to customise the results they get from running a query on the web.

The new system - which it is calling SearchWiki - allows users to personalise the answers they get from running a web search by moving particular results up or down the listings.

Users who sign in to the new system will be given the option to let the search engine remember which answers they value most - pushing answers around the rankings, or deleting them from their own search results entirely.

Alterations are made by clicking on a small icon next to the result - and will also allow users to automatically move a specific result so that it comes back as the top answer the next time that specific search term is used.

They can also make notes on particular results, which can be shared with other users who are signed into Google.

"We've always said that the best search engine is one that understands what the individual user wants," said Juergen Galler, Google's director of product management. "SearchWiki really puts that in action - this is an even deeper level of customisation that we've offered before."

The company has been trialling customisable search pages for some time, but the new system is now being rolled out to all users beginning today.

The company says around 40% of all queries are repeats of previous searches, meaning that user annotation could prove extremely useful to those who use it.

However, although user-driven data could help improve Google's main search engine listings, which are often the target of manipulation by spammers and unscrupulous search engine optimisers, the decisions made using SearchWiki will not influence the company's general search algorithms - for now, at least.

"Your re-rankings and deletions presently will affect only your own search results, not anyone else's," a Google spokeswoman told the Guardian. "We have no immediate plans to change organic search rankings based on SearchWiki data."

Neither do votes made this way affect the advertising displayed alongside search results - which is based on the terms entered into Google, and forms the foundation of the company's income.

However, Google believes that the system will allow it to stay on top in the battle to keep ahead of spammers and rival internet companies.

Second-placed search engine Yahoo is under extreme pressure to make inroads in the lucrative search market, particularly after the news that chief Jerry Yang would be stepping down and the decision by senior search executive Sean Suchter to defect to Microsoft.

Microsoft - which launched a takeover bid for Yahoo earlier this year, but was eventually rebuffed - has made no bones about its desire to catch up on Google's dominant market share.

Search was one of the major drivers behind the proposal, and although Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer indicated yesterday that "we are done with all acquisition discussions", he told shareholders that the company was still open to a "search collaboration" with Yahoo.

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