Microsoft's Research group announced an Internet Explorer 7 plug-in called SearchTogether on Wednesday that turns Web searches into a group activity.
The plug-in lets people set up what amounts to search chat rooms, in which a group of people can jointly peruse search results. Users can chat, annotate specific results with comments, ratings, and recommendations. Members of a group also can return later to view the annotated search session.
It also lets people perform a "split search," in which results are divided among different users in separate browser tabs. Many hands make light work, as the saying goes.
Unlike, the service doesn't actually alter search engine results.
But Microsoft clearly has the idea in mind, at least for adjusting the results particular users see if not the general list.
"There are changes to underlying search engine algorithms that could take advantage of the knowledge of a group," said Meredith Ringel Morris, the project leader and a member of Microsoft's Adaptive Systems and Interaction group.
"Groupization takes the idea of personalization techniques for customizing a list of search results to an individual and customizes a list of search results to a group, based on information you know about each member of the group. You can either exploit similarities among all the group members, to bubble up search results that would be most relevant to the group as a whole. Or you could exploit differences among the group members, send portions of the search results to different people in the group based on what you can automatically determine is their specific area of expertise.
Google, too, is exploring personalized results, though not among members of a group. For users who sign up for a service, Google tailors search results based on a person's browsing history.
Microsoft gives a quick walk-through of the technology on a video demonstration (WMV file) in which a family collectively browses diabetes search results.