Yahoo has found inspiration for its new web search functionality in an unusual place: its own pared-down mobile search results. The company discussed the latest enhancements to its search technology at an early afternoon “Chalk Talk” event today, displaying a new way of delivering results that’s both simpler and more complex than the old way.
The tagline for today’s gathering — “Kill the 10 blue links” — points toward Yahoo’s strategy of integrating data culled from multiple sources into results centering on “web objects,” clustering information around the likely intended result of a user’s query. Searches for athletes or musicians, for example, will deliver results with pictures, streaming music, or fantasy baseball stats, rather than 10 results in the familiar link-and-teaser model. The idea is to anticipate the user’s intent, rather than just provide a series of links from which to choose.
What’s especially interesting is the way Yahoo has modeled its enhanced web browser search on its mobile product. Search on mobile devices is inherently restricted by clumsy typing and slow loading link pages, forcing search providers to shorten the distance between the user and the results. As a result, Yahoo’s mobile search features a simpler user interface but a richer back end, two aspects of the new browser search product. “We’re going backward from mobile to the web browser,” acknowledged search strategy chief Prabhkar Raghavan, although the compression of more relevant information into a smaller space in an effort to satisfy a user’s perceived intent must be regarded as a step forward, too. In a phrase, form follows function follows form: The limitations of mobile devices have produced new ways of thinking about search results, in turn inspiring Yahoo to deliver superior results where those limitations don’t exist.
Yahoo’s strategy centers on open standards that allow third-party developers to both organize their own data for Yahoo’s searches via the Searchmonkey tool, and to use Yahoo’s search technology to enhance their own products, via the Boss API. Today’s event occurred a week after Google revealed a series of new tools, including developer code for a “Rich Snippets” product that’s similar to Searchmonkey. Microsoft, too, is preparing to revamp its search product in the coming weeks, potentially opening the door to a new battle among the three to shape search results via the developer community. Both Yahoo and Microsoft will have plenty of catching up to do, as Google currently receives almost two thirds of U.S. search market share, according to the latest report from comScore.