How Yahoo Will Catch Google in Search

August 25, 2008

Here’s an interview you must read. On August 25, 2008, the Financial Express (India) here published an interview with Yahoo’s super wizard, Prabhakar Raghavan. Dr. Raghavan is the head of research at Yahoo, a Stanford professor, and a highly regarded expert in search, database, and associated technologies. He’s even the editor of computer science and mathematics journals. A fellow like this can leap over Google’s headquarters and poke out Googzilla’s right eye. The interview, conducted by Pragati Verma, provides a remarkable look inside the plans Yahoo has to regain control of Web search.

There were a number of interesting factoids that caught my attention in this interview. Let me highlight a few.

First, Yahoo insists that the cost of launching Web search is $300 million. Dr. Raghavan, who is an expert in things mathematical, said:

Becoming a serious search player requires a massive capital investment of about $300 million. We are trying to remove all barriers to entry for software developers, who have ideas about how to improve search.

The idea is to make it easy for a start up to tap into the Yahoo Web index and create new services. The question nagging at me is, “If Web search is $300 million, why hasn’t Yahoo made more progress?” I use Yahoo once in a while, but I find that its results are not useful to me. When I search Yahoo stores, I have a heck of a time finding what I need. What’s Yahoo been doing since 1998? Answer: losing market share to Google and spending a heck of a lot more than a paltry $300 million losing ground.

Second, Google can lose share to search start ups. Dr. Raghavan said:

According to comScore data, Google had a 62% share of the US search market in May, while we had 21% and MSN 9%. Our prediction models suggest that Google could lose a big chunk of its market share, as BOSS partners and players come in.

My question is, “Since Google is vulnerable, why haven’t other search systems with funding made any headway; for example, Microsoft?” The notion that lots of little mosquitos can hobble Googzilla is not supported by Yahoo’s many search efforts. These range from Mindset to InQuira, from Flickr search to the deal with IBM, etc. Chatter and projections aside, Google’s share is increasing, and I don’t see much zing from the services using Yahoo index so far.

Finally, people don’t want to search. I agree. There is a growing body of evidence that key word search is generally a hassle. Dr. Raghavan said:

Users don’t really want to search. They want to spend time on their work, personal lives and entertainment. They come to search engines only to get their tasks done. We will move search to this new paradigm of getting the task done….

My question is, “How is Yahoo with its diffused search efforts, its jumble of technologies, and its inability to make revenue progress without a deal from Google doing to reverse its trajectory?” I wish Yahoo good luck, but the company has not had much success in the last year or so.

Yahoo lost its way as a directory, as a search system, and as a portal. I will wait to see how Yahoo can turn its “pushcart full of odds and ends” into a Formula One racer.

Stephen Arnold, August 25, 2008

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One Response to “How Yahoo Will Catch Google in Search”

  1. Seth Grimes on August 25th, 2008 1:43 pm

    Stephen, that Raghavan interview is indeed a find although it left me thinking about all the additional questions the interviewer should have posed. Here’s my own take on the interview with a link-back to your blog:


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