Through a series of clever acquisitions and in-house creations, Yahoo Inc. has transformed itself from a dot-com survivor into a Web 2.0 powerhouse driven by blogs, podcasts and other forms of user-generated social media.
The 10-year-old company is staying true to its search engine roots, but with the aggressive embrace of new technologies—from RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to contextual tagging—Yahoo has created a niche for itself in the world of external content aggregation.
"This embrace of the culture of participation goes back a long way," says Bradley Horowitz, Director of Technology Development at Yahoo Search.
"If you look at the roots of Yahoo, it was two guys sitting in a Stanford dorm room manually organizing what was out there on the Web."
"Were not jumping on a Web 2.0 bandwagon. Weve always been about providing tools for users to generate and share content. You can go back to the early days of Yahoo Groups and GeoCities," Horowitz said in an interview with Ziff Davis Internet News.
Horowitz, like other Yahoo executives, steers clear of the Web 2.0 hype but theres no mistaking the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based companys intent.
For starters, just look at Yahoos brand new My Web 2.0 beta, a social bookmarking tool that uses RSS and tagging to sort and shuttle content between socially-connected users.
Accessible via the Yahoo Toolbar, the service lets surfers save and tag Web pages for sharing with others.
"The next big breakthrough will be social search," Horowitz declared. "Were investing heavily in this."
With My Web 2.0, Horowitz believes Yahoo can "democratize the process" of ranking search relevance, a subtle tweak at rival Googles acclaimed PageRank technology.
"Why should the privilege of ranking the Internet be limited to just Webmasters? Why not let users determine that for themselves. Why not determine search relevance on a per-case and per-community basis?"
The idea is simple. Let the user bookmark and sort pages by title, URL, tags, keywords, name, date or popularity. Once a bookmark is saved, it becomes available for others within the users social circle, a concept that creates a massive base of eyeballs pushing content to each other.
Flickr—photo-sharing on steroids
Another big coup for Yahoo was the acquisition of Flickr, a photo-sharing service built around a tight-knit community of users.
Flickr lets users upload digital images from camera phones and computers and set up photo albums for sharing with the community via blogs and RSS.
Flickr helped popularize the idea of using tags to trigger random associations of images and the result is a slick, wildly popular tool used by millions.
Since the acquisition, Yahoo has already meshed Flickr with its Yahoo 360 social network and a new blog search tool launched within the Yahoo News property.
Interestingly, Flickr co-founder Caterina Fake now heads up the My Web 2.0 social search product, a clear indication of Yahoos plans for aggressive cross-integration of multiple products.
Horowitz looks at Flickr and sees endless possibilities and, although he is careful to avoid discussing future product plans, there are hints that the Flickr technology can be extended to power things like user-generated audio and video uploads.