Yahoo! is taking a bold step tonight: opening up its index and search engine to any outside developers who want to incorporate Yahoo! Search’s content and functionality into search engines on their own sites. The company that sees just over 20% of the searches performed each day believes that the new program, called BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service), could create a cadre of small search engines that in aggregate will outstrip their own market share and leave Google with less than 50% of the search market.
It’s an ambitious and exciting idea. It could also become very profitable when Yahoo! later enables the inclusion of Yahoo! search ads on sites using the BOSS APIs. BOSS will include access to Yahoo! web, news and image searches.
Websites wishing to leverage the BOSS APIs will be allowed to can blend in their own ranking input and change the presentation of results. There are no requirements for attribution to Yahoo! and there’s no limit on the number of queries that can be performed.
At launch Yahoo! BOSS will see live integrations with at least three other companies. Hakia will integrate their semantic parsing with the Yahoo! index and search, social browser plug-in Me.dium will use the data it’s collected to offer a social search tied to the Yahoo! index, and real-time sentiment search engine Summize was included in the BOSS demo – augmenting Yahoo News search results with related Twitter messages.
More extensive customization and integration with large media companies will be performed with assistance from Yahoo! and ad-free access to the APIs will be made available to the Computer Science departments of academic institutions.
Me.dium captures 20m URLs daily and will use BOSS to show social relevance in addition to link-weight in search.
Does Anyone Really Care About Niche Vertical Search Engines?
We asked Yahoo! just that, although we believe that alternative search engines can be pretty exciting. None the less, we think it’s a valid question.
Senior Director of the Open Search Platform, Bill Michels told us that niche search engines often aren’t very good because they have access to a very limited index of content. It’s expensive to index the whole web. Likewise, Michels said that there are a substantial number of large organizations that have a huge amount of content but don’t have world-class search technology.
In both cases, Yahoo! BOSS is intended to level the playing field and blow the Big 3 wide open. We agree that it’s very exciting to imagine thousands of new Yahoo! powered niche search engines proliferating. Could Yahoo! plus the respective strengths and communities of all these new players challenge Google? We think they could.
Hakia will parse the Yahoo! index for semantic meaning and data type.–>
What’s Not Included?
The BOSS APIs are in beta for now, so they may be expanded with time – but for now there are still a few crown jewels in the company’s plans that won’t be opened up. We asked about Yahoo’s indexing of the semantic web and were told that would not be a part of BOSS. We asked about the Inbox 2.0 strategy and the company’s plans to rewire for social graph and data portability paradigms. We were told that those were “other programs.”
We hope that there’s not a fundamental disconnect there that will lead to lost opportunities and a lack of focus. It is clear, though, that BOSS falls well within the company’s overall technical strategy of openness. When it comes to web standards, openness and support for the ecosystem of innovation – there may be no other major vendor online as strong as Yahoo! is today. These are times of openness, where some believe that no single vendor’s technology and genius alone can match the creativity of an empowered open market of developers. Yahoo! is positioning itself as leader of this movement.
Let’s see what they can do with an army of Yahoo! powered search engines. Let the games begin!