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Yahoo hints at social networking service

The portal giant predicts a future in which people can share their Web searches with friends.

Yahoo on Wednesday dropped hints of growing interest in social networking services for search, coming after announcements of efforts from rivals Google and Microsoft.

Tim Cadogan, Yahoo's vice president for search, said the company sees a future in which people can share their Web searches with friends.

"A lot of the Web is about sharing," Cadogan said, speaking to an audience at Stanford Business School's first annual technology conference.

He pointed to a fairly new feature from Yahoo that lets people in remote locations search simultaneously by using IM environments in Yahoo instant messenger. "This is just the beginning. A lot more will come from that," said Cadogan, a former executive at Overture Services who joined Yahoo before it bought the commercial search pioneer.

Social networking is all the rage among portals and search providers. Two weeks ago, Microsoft's MSN Web unit discussed introducing a social networking service based on the IM architecture later this year.

Meanwhile, Google recently began testing Orkut, an online social networking site that was created by several of its engineers in their free time. It is still under development, but Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the company plans to officially launch it when it's ready. The service will help give Google valuable registration data from subscribers, he said.

A relatively new search engine called Eurekster, which launched in January, already does what Yahoo proposes. Eurekster lets people register and then invite friends via e-mail to join the search engine network. The service learns from each search. Ultimately, it delivers personalized search results and shares popular Web destinations with an extended community of users.

Cadogan spoke on a panel that included executives from Internet companies Google, Ask Jeeves and eBay. He framed his comments in answer to a question about coming innovations from search providers. Aside from social networking, he highlighted Yahoo's work in localized search and personalization--two key areas that the other search engines also are working on.

Salar Kamangar, Google's product development director, talked up Google's work in personalization and localized search but said that the company's strategy is to test out many kinds of advancements to help people find information. Google recently started testing a personalization service that lets people detail their personal preferences so that they can receive more-tailored search results in the future.

Jim Lanzone, Ask Jeeves' vice president of product management, said that his company's search engine is focused on bringing answers more directly to consumers through its Smart Answers tool, thereby guessing at the user's intent.