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Aussie Yahoo mulls downing Google

The Internet portal is testing Inktomi's search engine Down Under with the view that it might replace Google.

Internet portal giant Yahoo has given one of its strongest indications yet that it will soon end its reliance on Web search technology provider Google.

Yahoo Australia search producer Peter Crowe revealed that the company had started testing Inktomi's search engine on projects at a number of the company's regional portals to see if it provides a viable alternative to Google's crawler-based search engine.

Crowe indicated that if Inktomi could produce results relevant to each region's market, then the company would not hesitate to make the switch.

The trial will involve measuring Inktomi against a number of search engines, including Google.

"If the Inktomi results are better for Australian users, we'll switch to Inktomi...and if they end up being better for each region, it will be used there," said Crowe.

Crowe said the decision to make the switch will be made on case-by-case basis, with each region assessing how well Inktomi produces search results relevant to the local market.

Speculation that Yahoo was maneuvering to wean itself off Google grew after it announced it would buy Inktomi in December 2002.

When Yahoo finalized the purchase in March this year, the company said it needed to avoid becoming dependent on a single third-party provider in order to ensure that it could "control its own destiny."

Yahoo agreed to use Google's search engine for its algorithmic (nonpaid) search facility in October 2002, and it has been using the service in conjunction with all of its portals with the exception of a few that serve Asian markets.

Yahoo's agreement with Google isn't due to expire until late 2004, but according to Crowe, its contract with the search provider doesn't contain any exclusivity clauses.

Still, Yahoo Australia is reluctant to put a firm time frame on its plans should Inktomi pass relevance testing, saying that they would be carried out in the "medium term."

When asked if there was some deficiency in the Google engine for Yahoo's portal plans, Crowe said he had "a hunch, but until they have scientific results to support that," he wouldn't comment publicly.

The trials come shortly after Yahoo Australia and New Zealand's decision to give its portal a major overhaul. The logistics of using the portal's search facility have been simplified, with an emphasis on personalizing customer preferences such as weather and mail.

Andrew Colley of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney, Australia.