Services & Software

Yahoo Labs and Carnegie Mellon forge $10 million partnership

The tech giant and the university will focus on mobile and personalization products, giving researchers access to data from Yahoo users who opt in.

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Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has said time and again that the company is planning to double down on personalization.

Looks like Yahoo is putting its money where its mouth is. About $10 million, to be more precise.

The company on Wednesday announced a partnership between its Yahoo Labs division, started in 2005, and Carnegie Mellon University, to focus on mobile and personalization projects. The partnership, called Project InMind, will cost Yahoo $10 million over five years.

The crux of the partnership is that Yahoo will be giving researchers at Carnegie Mellon access to Yahoo's APIs and data services, meaning researchers can experiment and build products using real mobile data from users. The idea is to create a controlled environment full of actual users so researchers can tinker with new ideas without having to worry about doing anything to harm Yahoo's existing products or business. Ron Brachman, chief scientist for Yahoo Labs, emphasized that the data haul from users in opt-in.

The exact focus of the mobile data access is still undecided, conceded Brachman, since the program is just getting off the ground. But the company said potentially data from every Yahoo property could be made available to the Carnegie Mellon researchers.

"Many of our colleagues have to work with artificial data sets," said Brachman. "Our scientists will get to work with real systems at scale."

Another component of the partnership is the creation of Yahoo Fellows. Yahoo will fund research for students and faculty members. Brachman said one of the byproducts of the program could be its use as a recruiting tool, to find interns and employees later down the line. Yahoo says it's hired 50 new PhDs in the past year.

For Yahoo, the price tag is a relative pittance, especially over five years. The company has been on an acquisition spree since Mayer took the helm. Just Tuesday, the company bought social diary startup Wander for a price rumored at $10 million, though the company declined to comment on the figure.

The scope and ambition of the program is also still unclear at this point. When you think of a tech giant and its research and development labs, it's hard not to think of Google X and its "moonshots" -- out-there projects like driverless cars, reality augmentation glasses or Wi-Fi blimps over Africa and Asia. The focus for the Yahoo Labs partnership will be on mobile personalization and machine learning, but beyond that, it's too early to tell, said Brachman. "We don't have an articulated vision for that yet," he said. "Nothing defined as a 'moonshot.'" But that doesn't mean the possibility isn't there. Check back again in a year, he said.