Today, Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) plans to formally open its search platform to the developer community, inviting site owners and third-party programmers to begin creating applications that will enhance the content that appears in a search listing.
Through the SearchMonkey initiative, Yahoo plans to tap into the vast stores of structured data within the Web pages its search engine indexes to deliver results that provide much more information about sites’ content than the traditional list of blue links with text snippets underneath.
The announcement comes on the same day that Yahoo’s future is once again called into question. Earlier today, activist investor Carl Icahn confirmed his intention to replace Yahoo’s board of directors in an effort to consummate the sale of the company to Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).
Throughout the three dramatic months of resisting against Microsoft’s bid, Yahoo came forward with a series of announcements of new products, partnerships and developer initiatives. Today’s opening of the developer platform, after three weeks of a very limited preview, is the company’s first major announcement since Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) pulled its acquisition bid off the table.
Amit Kumar, Yahoo’s director of product management for search, said that SearchMonkey is at the center of the Yahoo Life initiative, where the portal is opening its doors to the developer community to recast itself as the crossroads of the social Web.
“Search engines so far haven’t taken full advantage of the fact that there’s all this structured data,” Kumar told InternetNews.com. “This is the beginning of the next generation of search.”
Among the major search engines, Yahoo is not alone in updating the results pages to incorporate data of multiple formats. Through Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) universal search initiative, for instance, images, videos and other types of content are returned with regular Web pages in search results. A search for a place of interest through Google, Yahoo or MSN will often produce information such as an address, picture or map.
But with SearchMonkey, Yahoo is taking it further. Publishers who want to make their sites stand out will be able to share their structured data with Yahoo to plump up the site’s appearance on a search results page, providing more information at a glance and, hopefully, driving traffic to the site.
Site owners will be able to submit their data using Semantic Web markups, an XML feed reader or any one of several types of APIs.
Instead of just an address and a phone number, a restaurant might enhance its search listing with links to the menu, reviews or other information within a neatly organized template that Yahoo is providing.
Belly up to the infobar
Yahoo is also offering the ability for developers to create what it is calling infobars. These boxes, which will sit underneath the search result, will be a sort of search mashup, offering data pulled in from any external Web site.
An infobar for a search for a movie title, for instance, might contain links to reviews on imdb.com, a product listing on Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) or an application to add the film to a user’s Netflix queue.
Kumar said he expects that developers will rally around the opportunity to help build a new breed of search engine, not to mention the cachet that seems to come in developer circles from building applications that light up the traffic counters.
“There is a certain amount of geek cred that you get by creating something that is useful or popular to a huge audience,” he said.
Just to be sure, Yahoo is holding a contest it hopes will bring the developers out en masse. Through June 14, Yahoo will be considering entries for awards in five categories: best enhanced result, best infobar, most innovative use of structured data, best data service and a grand prize. All told, the company said it will award $20,000 in prizes to the winning developers.
Next page: Value enough as a stand-alone?
Page 2 of 2
Value enough as a stand-alone?
With Icahn preparing for a proxy war, the challenge for Yahoo’s leadership will be to convince investors that its turnaround strategy will bump the company’s stock price up to the value of Microsoft’s offer.
With SearchMonkey, Yahoo feels it is taking an important step in that direction. By delivering more relevant information with its results, its search engine could become a more viable competitor with Google for the lucrative search advertising market.
It is worth noting, however, that those two companies recently concluded a trial arrangement in which Google handled the advertising on a small portion of Yahoo’s search queries. Both companies said the experiment was a success, but it is still unclear whether they will pursue a permanent partnership.
Basic Yahoo search engine to remain in place
The underlying algorithm of Yahoo’s search engine will not change with the new developer program. Rather, Kumar said that the hope is to tap into the information beneath the surface of Web sites and marshal the collective creativity of the developer community to build a better product from the ground up.
“This is the beginning of a new search engine that is based on structured data,” he said, adding that the participating sites and developers will be “shaping the next generation of search.”