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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Yahoo Announces Open Search Platform

Yahoo Announces Open Search PlatformIt's business as usual over at Yahoo, despite the histrionics surrounding the potential Microsoft acquisition and recent layoffs. As part of the company's ongoing efforts to showcase its search differentiation, Yahoo has unveiled an "open search platform," which gives publishers the ability to customize their results as they appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). For example, a publisher such as Conde Nast (used in Yahoo's analyst presentation) can add Miss America photos *shown on this post* , links, maps and so on to a search result. A consumer searching on "cheesecake" would see the result from Conde Nast stand out from the pack, with a photo and links to recipes and videos. Yahoo says that these customized results in no way affect algorithmic results in terms of page rankings. Translated, a customized result will not inherently elevate your ranking, but you have to figure that a more visually appealing result on a page will get more clicks, so indirectly the message is "customize or wind up below the fold."

Yahoo's open search platform leaves a few questions unresolved. It's not abundantly clear the degree of difficulty in creating these customized search results. If the ability to create a standout customized result is as simple as using Microsoft's Popfly mashup tool, then it puts all publishers on a level playing field. On the other hand, if this task requires more-advanced development skills to create something elegant, the open platform grossly favors those with more technology resources. Additionally, search results pages containing these customized results could result in a confusing experience to the consumer. Not only do SERPs with a mix of customized and noncustomized results look somewhat catawampus, highly customized results with photos and links look like enhanced Yellow Pages ads. I doubt that was Yahoo's intent here.

While there is some modest innovation here, one has to wonder whether Yahoo's announcement here is more to show the world it's alive and doing fine than to truly showcase a bold step forward in search.

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