Will BOSS Put Yahoo Search Back in Charge?

In a surprise move last week, Yahoo unveiled BOSS, its Build Your Own
Search Service program that makes it search infrastructure available to
developers, companies and other organizations.

So far, Yahoo has been getting plaudits for its willingness to let others
leverage its massive infrastructure of servers, software and search
indexing, to build and enhance search services that could well compete with
Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) itself.

The embattled Web giant is also making
BOSS available with very few strings attached. For example, users can leverage the
system to enhance their own offerings without crediting Yahoo or giving it
any kind of public brand recognition.

“The thinking is, it’s no longer our product and not necessarily
indicative of how we do search,” said Senior Director for Open Search
Platform Bill Michels in an interview last week with
InternetNews.com. He added that Yahoo plans to continue to invest in
its own search infrastructure and technology with standard Yahoo branding.

Sue Feldman, IDC’s main search analyst, predicts outside companies and
developers are going to be attracted to BOSS because Yahoo is reaching out
in the right way. “It’s symbiotic, rather than parasitic,” said Feldman.

“Unfortunately, Yahoo and Jerry Yang are getting pilloried in the press
lately, but I applaud their vision, I think they’ve got this right,” she said.

The only main catch in the program is that Yahoo will require BOSS
participants to display ads generated by Yahoo and share in the revenue.
Companies can prioritize and display results any way they like. For example,
the social networking site Me.dium
plans to still give its “people search” results highest priority, but use
Yahoo’s index to tap the vast areas of the Web it lacks the resource to
index comprehensively.

The real search market

Feldman thinks that with BOSS Yahoo is recognizing a hard reality of the
search market that’s not commonly expressed by the press and in other
coverage.

“Two-thirds of all queries are done at Web sites that aren’t
search engines by definition,” said Feldman. “In other words, only a
third of all search queries are done at the big sites like Google, Yahoo and
MSN and others. The rest are people at Amazon looking for a specific item to
buy and things like that.”

As consumers get more comfortable with the idea of being able to
search from anywhere on the Web and, theoretically, become less reliant on
the big search engines, Feldman says it makes sense for Yahoo to extend its
reach and tap a part of that revenue stream.

“Everyone expects one big vendor will win in search, that’s just not
true,” said Feldman.

Siva Kumar, co-founder and CEO of TheFind, a shopping search engine “for the
discovery of lifestyle goods,” said he hasn’t decided yet whether he will
take advantage of BOSS, but applauds Yahoo’s effort.

“They are taking a very open approach, letting people do what they want,
even changing how search results are displayed or presented,” Kumar told
InternetNews.com. “That’s very different from Google’s custom search,
where you don’t have that flexibility and of course you have to use their
branding and search box.”

He said it might be useful for sites like his own to be able to offer
product reviews and manufacturer’s information gleaned from Yahoo’s huge
index.

“I’m not ruling out using BOSS,” he said. “But we have too look more at
how running their ads with ours would work. Also, we already have vertical
content you can access today that crawls very deeply for the kind of results
our users want. Yahoo would be ancillary to what we’re doing.”

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