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Google Gets Personal

It rolled out a test version of tools for personalized searches as it tries to boost user loyalty in an effort to maintain its lead as the Web's most popular destination.

Google Inc. on Monday rolled out a test version of tools for personalized searches, indicating that the company is looking to maintain its lead as the Web's most popular search destination by boosting user loyalty.

The company launched the tools through Google Labs, its research arm. Google did not give a release date for the final version of the tools, which are available at no charge.

Personalized Search lets users define a personal profile by selecting from several categories, including news, science, business/industries, and computers. A search through the selected category then can be fine-tuned by using an on-screen slider tool to do things such as bring more pertinent results to the top of the list.

Web Alerts, on the other hand, is more straightforward. Similar to the already-in-place news alerts that Google offers, Web Alerts lets users enter a search string, and will then send a daily or weekly E-mail with links to newly discovered pages.

Google's alerts will also include findings from its news pages and Froogle shopping site.

"Today, Google takes the first step in providing personal search results based on users' preferences," Larry Page, co-founder and president of products at Google, said in a statement.

The company also debuted other enhancements to the general Google engine, including a new number range command that lets users specify that results contain numbers in a set range. A number range search is done by specifying two numbers, separated by two periods, with no spaces. For example, a search string of "DVD player $250..300" will return only those DVD players priced between $250 and $300.

Google News now includes thumbnail-sized images of any photos accompanying the original story.

Despite its lead as the top web surfing vehicle, Google faces stiff competition from Yahoo and Microsoft. Earlier this year, Yahoo dropped Google's search technology, replacing it with its own platform.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently acknowledged that the company was slow in getting into the search market, but indicated the company plans to invest heavily in developing new technology for the lucrative market.

Search destinations have become popular among advertisers looking to reach Web shoppers. By 2008, 29% of offline retail purchases are expected to be influenced by online research, according to Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia.

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