Yahoo Redefines Search as an Interface

February 28, 2010

Yoiks! The UK media giant Telegraph ran the story “Yahoo and the Future of Search” with a remarkable subtitle: “Yahoo’s search deal with Microsoft could usher in a new purple patch for the former web giant.”

Look at this paragraph in the interview with the former Googler  Yoelle Maarek, now senior director of Yahoo Research.”

The [Microsoft] deal, she explains, should be seen as liberating Yahoo! to focus on front-end search innovations, rather than spending time and money on ensuring the back-end technology is working well. If anything, says Maarek, the Microsoft deal has freed the company up to start fighting the search war in the most important area – the bit the consumer can see. Yahoo’s search teams are planning to launch several new initiatives in this area over the coming months, to try and steal share from search Goliath Google, and also, somewhat confusingly, from Bing, the search platform of Microsoft, its new partner.

Now I am an addled goose often besieged by azure chip consultants and swamped with poobahisms. But this passage startled me.

First, as a former Googler, I expected something logical. Search as interface is okay, but it is part of the story. In fact, that story is Microsoft’s pitch for the UX or user experience. The idea is that users can have eye candy, facets, and suggestions so no query is needed. Fine, but to define search as an interface is like defining GM as a Corvette wheel assembly. Important but not the “real” GM.

Second, I quite like the notion of relying on Microsoft’s plumbing so Yahoo can do the UX thing. The hitch in the git along is that the plumbing is not quite up to Google standards. Ms. Maarek may not know how different but I am of the opinion that she will find out pretty darned quick.

Third, Yahoo has to make stuff work. I will not mention Panama. I will not point out the problems with email search. I will not point out the interesting behavior of Yahoo’s help system. Nope. I will just suggest you navigate to and run a query for a Canon 200 camcorder. Check out the results. Make your own decision about where Yahoo is relative to Amazon and Bing. Even Google’s quirky Products service is more useful in my opinion.

What I find remarkable is that a marketing pitch is presented as laser like insight:

Over the coming months, Maarek says Yahoo! is focusing on three core search areas. Firstly the company is investing in lots of research and “data crunching” to understand how its search engine can better anticipate a person’s “intent” when they enter a search term – for instance, how it can discern whether a person is looking for business news, the record label or the fruit if they enter the search term ‘apple’. Secondly there are new tools being built upon and promoted to make searching via Yahoo! easier and help the company “establish a dialogue” with its users, according to Maarek. ‘Search Pad’ is one of these initiatives. It is a note-taking application which automatically assists a user in saving the addresses of the websites they are visiting on a virtual pad. It helps users collect, edit, organize, save, print and email their notes for immediate or future use. However, unless a user is logged into a Yahoo! account, it will not save or send a user the URLs after the browser window is shut down. Thirdly, Yahoo! is trying to build upon is ‘web of things’ concept – the idea that the web should be seen as an entity built up of ‘objects’ rather than documents. This should be reflected in the way search results are presented. For instance, if a user searched for Lady Gaga, then instead of receiving a list of blue links, the search results will be presented like a mini newspaper – with a variety of types of result including, images, ticket offers, videos (presented as videos and not just links) and news articles.

Does this sound like marketing speak to you? It does to me.

My view:

  1. Yahoo is yesterday in my opinion and rolling up other companies’ technology is a tricky financial wicket in my experience
  2. The technical infrastructure has not been rationalized so cost control for Yahoo will remain a problem. You can only sell off so much and fire so many people before deterioration accelerates even if revenue ticks up a notch.
  3. AOL is moving in a new direction, not talking about a new direction. I think the odds against AOL are significant but, hey, AOL is giving the content farm game a whirl
  4. Time is running out for Yahoo. Top line revenue growth is needed now.

What happens if the Microsoft Yahoo tie up does not yield big bucks and significantly greater market share? Microsoft moves on and Yahoo twists in the wind.

Stephen E Arnold, February 28, 2010


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta