Yahoo Embraces Social Search

A new social search approach could help Yahoo compete with Google.

Yahoo is following in the footsteps of its rivals by revamping its Yahoo Search platform, a product that is more intuitive than the companys previous search offering and that symbolizes Yahoos transformation.

The technology, introduced Oct. 1, includes several new features that are intended to make it easier for consumers to find what they need, as well as a more attractive user interface that keeps in step with—and in some cases surpasses—recent search platform updates from rivals Google, Microsoft and

Yahoos new search technology was built on the back of its Panama search advertising platform, which company officials claim offers Yahoo Search greater relevancy for sponsored listings, greater search speed and integrated social tools, such as photos from Yahoos Flickr site.


Click here to read more about Yahoos high score in customer satisfaction.

Tim Mayer, senior director of product management for Yahoo Search, in Sunnyvale, Calif., told eWEEK that user research showed one of the biggest problems people have is learning how to conduct a search. Typically people take four, five or six tries before they find the answer to a question or complete a task. Often, users type in similar queries and get drastically different results.

Yahoo aims to alleviate this pain with Search Assist. Now, when a user types a query into the search box, a gray drop-down menu appears with possible search choices that other users have typed in related to that concept and similar concepts. This approach can eliminate misspellings and help users find what theyre looking for more quickly.

But heres the intuitive part: The drop-down menu doesnt appear for every search. Rather, Search Assist gauges the users typing speed, so if a user slows down a bit to consider the query formation, the drop-down menu will come down to help the user with the query.

"Its contextual," Mayer said. "If the user doesnt help, theres no point in providing assistance. Other Web sites have been providing user assistance 100 percent of the time, but we found it wasnt useful 100 percent of the time because some people knew where they wanted to go."

Search Assist is not the first of its kind. offers an assistance technology, but Mayer said Yahoos rival offers assistance with every search and doesnt "go as deep" with related concepts.

Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said the new Yahoo Search shows the companys attempt to understand the intent behind searches.

"I call it almost mind-reading because they anticipate what searches you would do off of a couple of words even before you type them, especially when you pause," Li told eWEEK. "Its the beginning of what I call social lightweight search. Its social in that other peoples actions are forming what you do next. What you do next is very likely what other people have done next."

The numerous enhancements per interest area include improved musical artist listings that incorporate ticket and touring information, movie listings that offer trailers and local show times, local restaurant listings, upcoming event listings (from Yahoos purchase of Upcoming), videos from MetaCafe, Yahoo and YouTube, and Flickr photos.

When a query is made in any one of these interest areas, information is "packaged" together for the user in a query return that looks like a portal page. These packages also look a lot like Ask.coms 3D Search approach.

"What weve been doing in terms of this launch is weve been focused on making search more effortless by understanding the user intent and providing all of the different intents in a complete answer, so instead of going to many places, they can go to one place and get their questions answered immediately," Mayer said.


Read more here about Ask.coms vision for collective search.

In the future, Mayer said, Yahoo Search will feature tighter security and greater social computing tools integration to provide a layer of insight that doesnt currently exist.

The importance of the refreshed Yahoo Search cant be understated. The company has had an uncharacteristically rough year, both financially and in terms of executive turnaround as it seeks to increase its market share as the No. 2 search provider behind Google.

Since Jerry Yang supplanted Terry Semel as CEO this summer, the company has been active, retooling Yahoo Mail and acquiring online ad network BlueLithium for $300 million and Web collaboration provider Zimbra for $350 million.

The revised Yahoo Search may not be a game-changer, but the technology and the acquisitions are important steps toward helping Yahoo battle Google and other search vendors.


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on enterprise search technology.