Two months after opening up its search platform to outside developers, Yahoo has taken the next step along its turnaround path in the search market with Yahoo Search BOSS, a Web services platform that invites programmers at companies to create search products powered by Yahoo Search.
Through an API, BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) offers programmatic access to the entire Yahoo Search index, allowing teams of programmers at companies to leverage Yahoo's search infrastructure and technology, combine them with their own assets, and create new search experiences.
This significantly lowers the barrier to entry in search, allowing companies to build a search engine without spending millions of dollars of investment in crawling and indexing technology and relevancy and machine learning algorithms, not to mention buying data centers, servers and power.
Companies will be able to re-rank and blend search results; present search results through any user interface paradigm; and leverage a Yahoo Python library and UI templates to mash up BOSS search results with other public data sources.
Moreover, out of the gate, developers will have access to Web, news and image search, with more verticals coming soon.
"For BOSS, we see a virtuous circle in which partners deliver innovative search experiences, and as they grow their audiences and usage we have more data that can be used to improve our own Yahoo Search experience and as a result, improve the quality of results our BOSS partners and their users get," the Yahoo BOSS team wrote in a blog post July 10.
Early partners include Me.dium, a social search startup that used BOSS to build a search engine that leverages its real-time surfing data, and semantic search player Hakia, which is using BOSS to increase the speed with which it can analyze the Web.
Eventually, Yahoo will unveil a platform to let companies monetize BOSS, though specifics on that plan are murky just now.
The idea, the latest step along Yahoo's path to wrest more search share from Google even as it precariously proffers Google keywords alongside its own search results, is novel. I've been enamored of Yahoo's Open Strategy since CTO Ari Balogh announced it at Web 2.0 in April.
Unfortunately, it's probably too late at this stage in the game. Microsoft and breakup investor Carl Icahn have fashioned quite a pincer move on Yahoo.
Icahn in the last few weeks has dangled the Yahoo carrot in front of Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, enough so that the software giant appears interested once again in buying all or some of the company.
Microsoft tried itself to gain Yahoo and failed. Then Icahn entered the picture while Microsoft acted like it didn't care, and drummed up enough support so that shareholders are calling for the Yahoo board to vanish.
Now Microsoft has returned to the table, indicating renewed interest in dealing for Yahoo when and if the current board vacates the company.
My Microsoft Watch colleague Joe Wilcox hinted that Icahn may have contacted Microsoft to persuade it to come back to the table.
I'll go so far as to say that I'm quite sure Icahn was whispering in Ballmer's ear all along, fervently invoking the now Gates-less leader to take another crack at Yahoo. Either way, Microsoft can win a bit by taking out a rival or using it to attack the Moby Dick of the Search Ocean.
I'm guessing Icahn and Microsoft will get their wish at the Aug. 1 shareholders' meeting. I don't see how the current disenchanted shareholders will let Yahoo continue as it is, particularly in the wake of losing more than 100 talented executives and engineers, and watching the stock wane.
Not to be coarse, but this just sucks. That's about as succinctly as I can sum up the situation.
Instead of getting an opportunity to grow its search business beyond 20 percent or so to challenge Google's mighty 60 percent-plus share, Microsoft will end up buying Yahoo, killing the company to triple search share. And it still ends up on the losing side of Google.
To be fair, I don't presume that Yahoo Search Monkey, BOSS, or its evolving strategy to socialize Yahoo Mail would definitely help the company knock off Google in search. Not any more than I believe Microsoft's purchase of Powerset will make the search laggard a Google killer.
But I do think Yahoo, if it were allowed to develop and grow BOSS and its other plans, would provide a better competitor to Google than Microsoft.
I don't think we'll ever know because I don't see Microsoft nourishing Yahoo's open platform efforts in the event it acquires it. I see Microsoft smothering Yahoo and its dreams.