Yahoo has just unveiled a beta version of its open search web services platform, which offers up the company’s core search and related technologies so that anyone can build a search engine of their very own. It’s a risky move, but a welcome one — for it has the potential to finally shake up the search market status quo. Continue Reading

About six months ago, I heard that Yahoo was contemplating offering its entire search platform as a web service, much like Amazon’s S3 storage and EC2 computing services. Since the rumor was short on details and Yahoo was already in the midst of a gut-wrenching upheaval, I didn’t put much stock in it. Apparently I should have, for Yahoo today announced the beta version of BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service), which essentially turns its core search and other related technologies into a free web service that can be used by anyone who wants to build their own search engine.

This isn’t simply access to Yahoo’s search results; Google did that ages ago, though I wonder if anyone actually uses it. Rather BOSS will allow anyone to rank, arrange and display search results that befit their own algorithm, without as much as acknowledging that the results are coming from Yahoo. 

Yahoo News Search, Image Search and Yahoo Spell Checker services will all be offered as part of this effort. Combine this with Yahoo’s recently introduced SearchMonkey tool, and you could build a search engine that is entirely your own.

Prabhakar Raghavan, chief strategist for Yahoo Search, said it typically costs around $300 million to build a search engine and its related infrastructure, which is why there are so few players. He has a point: Powerset recently sold out to Microsoft for precisely those reasons.

Raghavan hopes that BOSS could help foster a lot of experimentation around search, and more importantly, around the search experience, because startups will no longer have to spend millions on infrastructure. “The opening up of our search is a philosophical shift, and we are saying that if you can be better than us, so be it,” said Raghavan. “There is no shortage of search ideas, though the barriers were only a few hundred million dollars. You have to be willing to have your lunch eaten in order to disrupt.”

The BOSS service is being offered for free, though as part of the deal users will have to use Yahoo’s Search Advertising. Yahoo believes that by boosting query volumes, it can create more volume for its search advertising and thus begin to grow against its nemeses: Google & Microsoft.

It’s a very bold move by the hobbled online giant, as it puts its own search business at risk. “We are trying to disrupt the market by allowing people to come and build on our platform,” Raghavan admitted. Two startups, Hakia and Me.dium, have already signed on for the service.

But I think it’s a risk worth taking, for it will shake up the search status quo and offer a way in for the little guys and all their creativity. Far more importantly, however, it helps people to think of Internet search beyond the tried and tired paradigm of proactively “finding” information.

Unlimited queries, the ability to mix with other content including news, and research from universities and other such repositories could really change the game. By allowing folks to use its engines in tandem with their proprietary data (such as a proprietary social graph), Yahoo will allow them to build a different kind of user experience. “We don’t need to see proprietary data but work with them,” Raghavan said.

This isn’t a slam dunk, however. Yahoo still has some serious challenges ahead of it. The company’s hope is to show big gains in search queries and search-query related advertising revenues. Just like I hope to be the starting pitcher for the Yankees.

Yahoo executives didn’t answer my repeated questions about the potential impact on their business. Notably, they are asking startups to sign up for their search monetization system — the very same system that is going to use Google to drum up ads. That isn’t a very confidence-inspiring move. And if this monetization tool was so great, Yahoo wouldn’t be in the kind of trouble it’s in. If you’re a startup, do you want to hitch your wagon to a wanna-be ad system?

My reservations aside, this is a big, gutsy move by Yahoo to emerge from the stupor that has enveloped the company and the search industry at large. I’m looking forward to seeing the results of this experiment.

Yahoo’s Blog has more details on the new offering.

  1. Yahoo BOSSes Its Way Into Long Tail of Search « Life in the San Francisco Startup Lane Wednesday, July 9, 2008

    [...] this: Yahoo has announced Yahoo! Search BOSS (Build your own search service) as also reported by GigaOM and TechCrunch.  You can access Yahoo! search results via API or framework, mashing up [...]

  2. Very interesting post – someone tweeted today. I’m skeptical too but this could be an industry shaking move. Only time will tell. Thanks for bringing this into the spotlight.

  3. Build your own Yahoo!-like search engine — Vad NU! Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] ways of moving forward. If that’s the case then Yahoo! might have unlocked a real gem by announcing a web service called BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) that allows third parties to build their own custom search engines on the shouldes of [...]

  4. » Blog Archiv » BOSS – Yahoo bietet seinen Suchdienst per API an ErkenntnisWerk Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] Quellen: Yahoo Blog, CNET, TechCrunch, GigaOm, zooie’s, Webware, [...]

  5. A Yahoo! megnyitja a keresőmotorját at ‹Webakadémia /› Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] írt: Yahoo: építs saját keresőt! címmel, és persze a nagy blogok is beszámoltak róla: RWW, GigaOM, TechCrunch, ProgrammableWeb. « Az Opera [...]

  6. This makes a huge difference for alternative search engines such as ours at http://www.cluuz.com. We were part of the alpha process as well (Cluuz implements the new Yahoo BOSS API) and from personal experience with the BOSS team I can tell you that they have a great vision. With this move Yahoo is essentially fostering innovation in the search space as the alts (alternative search engines) are the ones doing the interesting work in search these days.

  7. Keegy United States – Yahoo, Now Offering Search as a Web Service Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] Yahoo, Now Offering Search as a Web Service [...]

  8. Great move by Yahoo! Hope this will foster a lot of innovation in the search space.

  9. Yahoo, Now Offering Search as a Web Service « Language Games Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] read more | digg story [...]

  10. I think 300M is an over optimistic low number. You not only have to have a better result, you also must deliver it in the same time as Google and have a better business model.
    So the whole thing boils down to ROI.
    Or in other words, search is just a front end to the back end and that is where the money goes and which makes it work, or not. So the idea that you can just develop a new algorithm and throw it onto somebodies back end and deliver better results in the same time, seems to be showing a little disrespect or understanding on what Information is and how it is stored and retrieved.
    I’m highly skeptical.

  11. Web Worker Daily » Archive Looking at Yahoo’s Search Partners « Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] has opened up its search engine through a comprehensive range of APIs. Our parent site GigaOm has coverage of the industry implications, but our interest is more in the practical uses for web workers. Fortunately, even though the [...]

  12. Good perspective. I agree that it’s a big risk for Yahoo but what have they got to lose at this point? BOSS opens search to so much innovation and creativity, regardless of what happens to Yahoo, it will be good for the industry. I hope it’s successful.

  13. despuesdegoogle » Blog Archive » Yahoo! BOSS, el buscador como servicio Thursday, July 10, 2008

    [...] y esclarecedor), TechCrunch (extenso, técnico y optimista), OJObuscador (relativista), GigaOM (exhaustivo) o ReadWriteWeb (agudo como siempre. Destaca las expectativas que abre para el desarrollo de [...]

  14. Is there a message on this BOSS initiative that Yahoo wants us to hear?Is Yahoo making itself more attractive for Microsoft or is it simply telling Icahn that it still has the legs to carry on on its own?Yahoo Searches for Enterprise Strategy(http://www.internetevolution.com/author.asp?section_id=625&doc_id=158648&F_src=flftwo)

  15. GigaOm: Yahoo, Now Offering Search as a Web Service…

    Yahoo today announced the beta version of BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service), which essentially turns its core search and other related technologies into a free web service that can be used by anyone who wants to build a search engine. According to Y…

  16. Liddle Thoughts » Blog Archive » Is everything moving towards SaaS and the cloud ? Friday, July 11, 2008

    [...] search engine and its related infrastructure, which is why there are so few players. As explained by Om Malik the BOSS service is being offered for free, though as part of the deal users will have to use [...]

  17. Yahoo! BOSS in the right direction, but only BOSS Custom goes far enough for radical search innovation – Travel Industry News – UpTake Blog Monday, July 14, 2008

    [...] to GigaOm, you have to use Yahoo! Search Advertising. And Om makes the point: Notably, they are asking [...]

  18. Will you all give me a break? The search game is over for the forseeable future. Yahoo lost. It doesn’t matter what they do; they are going to be down to single digit marketshare by 2010. They simply don’t matter anymore.

  19. Yahoo’s BOSS and Web 3.0 « Speaking My Mind Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    [...] Yahoo’s release of Build your Own Search Service (BOSS), by blogs like Boomtown, Techcrunch, GigaOm and others.  Most bloggers viewed it as a smart move by Yahoo to attempt to compete with Google.  [...]

  20. WebWorkerDaily » Archive 10 More New Ways to Make Money Online « Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    [...] Team up with Yahoo! to offer custom search services. Yahoo! recently launched their BOSS API, which lets anyone build their own custom search engine or mashup using their search [...]

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