Yahoo SearchMonkey Is Out of Its Cage

Yahoo begins the first leg of its rebuilding strategy by encouraging developers to galvanize its search results.

Playing off the belief that Web users turn to search engines to get information to complete tasks, Yahoo May 15 released its new open developer platform to let programmers write applications that boost the relevance of search results.

Called SearchMonkey, the effort is the first leg of the company's ambitious YOS (Yahoo Open Strategy), a bid to rewire the company's software infrastructure.

SearchMonkey comprises three layers, Amit Kumar, director of product management for Yahoo Search, told eWEEK May 13.

First, Yahoo partner publishers, such as The New York Times, Yelp, eBay and StumbleUpon, share structured data with Yahoo. Third-party developers then access this content through semantic markup languages, such as microformats and RDF, standardized XML feeds, Web services APIs, and page extraction, to create widgets. These widgets will include navigational links, reviews, contact information and locations to provide enhanced search listings.

Finally, developers make these apps available in a gallery on Yahoo, from which consumers can grab them to customize their searches.

"This is the beginning of the next generation of search, where search is not going to be about text matching text but about task completion," Kumar said.

Programmers may build two types of applications using SearchMonkey: enhanced results and infobars.

Enhanced results replace the current standard results with a richer display, so it's important that all the links in the enhanced results point to the site to which the result refers.

A common example would be a restaurant search. Traditionally, a user might enter a restaurant name and get a barebones synopsis in the teaser. Users would then click the link and read up on the establishment.

An enhanced result would include images of the restaurant, deep links to reviews and photos, and abstracts with ratings, addresses and other info-all presented in a box without the user having to click anywhere.

Infobars, annotation applications that appear below existing search URLs, can include metadata about the result, related links or content, and links for user actions. This could include a review teaser pulled from a participating Yahoo partner site.

Asked what might motivate a programmer to start building applications for SearchMonkey, Kumar said the idea that developers could sculpt the new Yahoo search experience would be empowering to most coders. More simply, programmers who come up with a unique application will develop "street cred," and get "picked up for plum positions" within companies.

That might not be enough for everyone, so to "foster innovation and creativity," or in other words to tempt programmers to begin coding for Yahoo Search, Yahoo is hosting a code-off of sorts.

The SearchMonkey Developer Challenge will award up to $20,000 in prizes for the top applications in the categories of best enhanced result, best infobar, most innovative use of structured data and best data service, as well as a grand prize for best over all categories.

Developers have until June 14 to submit applications. The application gallery will be available later in summer 2008.

Starting with SearchMonkey, Yahoo is essentially betting the company on YOS. Its goal is to evolve from a siloed structure, where the service contract existed between Yahoo and individual users, to broader access that allows the company's 500 million-plus users to more freely share content.

In essence, Yahoo wants to become the premier social network, breaking down the walls between its Webmail and instant messaging users, but also make its portal the place to play by allowing users to access widgets.