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Search 2.0: compromising privacy for better results?

Google has given us access to anything we'd like to find on the Web - so long as we know how to search for it. We have to use keywords - and plenty of them - to submit our searches with enough information to narrow the results into something manageable.

Google has given us access to anything we'd like to find on the Web - so long as we know how to search for it. We have to use keywords - and plenty of them - to submit our searches with enough information to narrow the results into something manageable. Otherwise, we end up with page after page of results, many of which aren't what we're really looking for anyway.

Now, comes a new search tool - almost like a companion, if you will - that sits on your computer and studies you top to bottom as a way of personalizing your searches. Called Gogimon, the startup company isn't setting out to be a Google killer like other search alternatives have tried. Instead, it's compiling information about your search and surf habits so it can better understand you. How does it do it? It tracks everything you do and see - RSS feeds, browser bookmarks, sites you visit and even what you watch and read. The technology also tracks how long you spend focused on a particular part of the web page - or better yet, how quickly you scroll away - and also scans the words on the screen to understand the topics you're reading about.

I know what you're thinking. I was thinking it, too. That's a little too much peeking over my shoulder for my comfort. When I talked to the folks at Gogimon, we talked about the Big Brother feeling and they recognized that there's a fine line there when it comes to privacy. Initially, I questioned why this tool needed to be a client that had to be downloaded and installed to a specific computer when so much of the latest technology is focused on the cloud and virtualization. The biggest reason: the data that's compiled about you doesn't live on the Web. It lives on your machine. CEO and co-founder Menachem Reinshmidt says he thinks user privacy is better protected using Gogimon than Google.

Gogimon doesn't try to replace Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live search results; it just puts them in tabs next to the results that Gogimon thinks you're looking for. It also allows you to further refine a search - basically, search within a search within a search capabilities. For now, the technology - because it's client-based - is only available for Windows XP and Vista users. (At least they're honest about it: there's no immediate plans for a Mac or Linux version.)

I'm actually a little bit torn on this one. It's one thing for Google to serve up ads based on the contents of my email or the keywords of my search. For some reason, I seem to be OK with that. But when a company tells me to install something that will track anything and everything I do, it just doesn't feel right to me. I almost feel like I'm doing hackers a favor, installing the trojan horse for them. I know it's different but it just doesn't feel right.

I've heard about a handful of approaches to search that offer intrguing approaches to refining results. Splunk, for example, is positioning itself as the IT search engine. Infovell, which was at DEMO earlier this month, is more like a "research engine" because it digs in deeper by indexing things like the text of an embedded document (like a PDF research paper) and queries of unlimited length (such as full sentences or paragraphs for digging in deeper.) Earlier this month, ubexact.com launched a beta search engine that allows users to refine by popular categories, locations and other criteria. (Do you want to see it, do it, shop it or find it?) But like the poorly-received launch of Cuil this summer, ubexact.com's promise of a better way to search is hampered by few - if any - results for simple searches while it continues to build its index.

I think Gogimon has one of the most innovative approaches I come across - but I still just can't get past the idea of having to install a Big Brother-like client. There's no argument here that Google delivers too many results. And, yeah, I know I'm being studied and tracked out there in cyberspace somewhere. But it's one thing to suspect that it's going on and another to manually install the tools that allow it to go on.

What do you think?