Yahoo wants to objectify search

Guessing the user's intent is the centerpiece of Yahoo's efforts to improve search these days, and it needs to find objects, rather than documents, to make that happen.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
2 min read

SAN FRANCISCO--Yahoo is continuing its attempt to redefine Internet search by focusing on intent, not results.

The company held a "Search Chalk Talk" here Tuesday to discuss the state of Yahoo's search efforts, a renewed priority under new CEO Carol Bartz. There were a few tidbits of news--such as the one-year anniversary of Yahoo's SearchMonkey project--but the talk really served as a further reminder that Yahoo's future vision of search revolves around structured data.

Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Labs and Yahoo Search Strategy, made approximately 489 references (give or take) to Yahoo's desire to see the Web as objects, rather than documents. This is something it has been working on for quite some time with the SearchMonkey project, which aims to get Web publishers to use descriptive tags on their pages in order to let Yahoo Search understand exactly what is meant by the content on those pages.

"It's time to kill the 10 blue links," Raghavan said, referring to the top ten search results listed when you enter most queries into a search engine. "We want to move away from document retrieval as center of search to divining the user's intent," Raghavan said.

Should you go to Typhoon Asian Bistro? That's your intent when conducting a search for information, and Yahoo needs to help you make that decision. Yahoo

To that end, Yahoo showed off several search projects it's currently testing, such as the ability to surface results that add in other types of data, such as reviews, to searches for local restaurants. In that example, people are expressing intent--a desire to visit a certain restaurant--and Yahoo Search should be able to interpret that intent and show the most relevant content to help them decide if that's a good idea.

It showed off related projects currently in use where a search for Beyonce brought up the popular singer's home page, but also a list of albums and links to tracks hosted on Rhapsody, where searchers could play the track right from the search result. Or how a search for New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez results in statistical information for fantasy baseball junkies in addition to the usual results containing news, photos, and biographical information.

None of these particular concepts are novel, however: Google's Universal Search has been showing different types of rich content within the regular search results since 2007, for example. And while it's true that Yahoo has beat the structured data drum far more heavily than its larger rival, Google's announcement last week that it's ready to start incorporating certain types of structured data such as Yelp reviews into search results means it's moving in this direction as well.

One interesting tidbit was that much of Yahoo's current work on improving search was inspired by its work on mobile search, which is limited by the constraints of screen size and input method but augmented by technologies such as GPS. Understanding a user's intent in this type of search is critical, because a mobile user has less room to see the data and less time for paging through endless numbers of search results.