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Yahoo developing an audio search engine

Tool will be designed for people looking for downloadable songs and music info on the Net, CNET News.com has learned.

Web giant Yahoo is developing a search engine for finding downloadable songs and music data from across the Internet, CNET News.com has learned.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company plans to introduce the music search engine within the next couple of months, according to a source familiar with the service. The specialty engine will let people search on an artist's name, for example, and retrieve all the available songs from other music services, as well as album reviews and band information from Yahoo Music.

Jeff Karnes, Yahoo's director of media search, declined to comment on development of an audio search engine. "I can't talk about that right now," Karnes said in an interview Wednesday.

Yahoo has invested heavily on music services, and considers audio and video cornerstones of the company's future. In addition to buying song outlet MusicMatch for $160 million, Yahoo is working on another music service in conjunction with rival MusicNet. The company has also started to streamline its music and multimedia properties over the past several months, changing the name of its Launch site to Yahoo Music and consolidating its entertainment businesses in a Santa Monica, Calif., office near Hollywood.

Search technology is considered the key to navigating the Internet's growing music and video collections, as well as the Web itself. Yahoo not only is developing media and online communities to lure visitors, it is attempting to use its media-search engines to connect with Web surfers outside the Yahoo network. That way, Yahoo can build its audience and likely expand its multibillion-dollar search-advertising business.

"It makes sense because Yahoo's got access to all this music to begin with," said Gary Stein, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "Music needs better search, and by looking at the structured data of music--title, genre, etc., they could provide a better experience."

Under the purview of Yahoo's search technology group, the company also is investing in video search. This week, the company pushed its video search engine, Yahoo Video Search, out of its test phase and signed partnerships with several TV programmers, including Bloomberg, MTV and the Discovery Channel, to make their content searchable online.

Yahoo's search technology group has been developing the audio search engine for months, according to a source. The music engine will draw on Yahoo's search-marketing service to add related advertisements to music search results, according to this source.

An estimated 24.5 million people visited Yahoo Music in March, according to market researcher ComScore Networks.

Yahoo's entry into the digital-music search market could turn the heat up on rivals, including music stores such as Apple Computer's iTunes. Google even registered the Web address Googlemusic.com more than two years ago, although the search behemoth has yet focus its technology on music.

But Yahoo's music search will directly compete with services such as Singingfish, GoFish and MP3.com, which is owned by News.com publisher CNET Networks. Such services let people find music reviews and related information, along with links to legal download stores and peer-to-peer networks.

Still, some analysts say that, apart from its ambitions to attract regular visitors, Yahoo has yet to fully formulate its music strategy.

"I haven't seen Yahoo's music strategy take much shape yet, but what's undeniable is the number of visitors they have," said Mike McGuire, research director at GartnerG2.

"There are a large number of communities built up outside of Yahoo. And if Yahoo can turn to those and say we have a home for you, that becomes a powerful force in the music industry," McGuire said. "Does it replace an iTunes or Napster? I don't know at this point."

Yahoo's Karnes, who announced the launch of Yahoo Video Search this week, said that the search team works closely with the entertainment group. "We do have integration with Yahoo Music, Yahoo TV, etc," he said.

"The Yahoo search group--we're the first stop for folks on the Internet," Karnes said.