The Search Tools They are A-Changing


This evening, Yahoo is announcing some cool enhancements to their Search functionality. You should check them out, and I’m not just saying that because I work for Yahoo Search, but because after several years of posturing by the big search engines, the paradigms for search on the web are finally actually shifting.

The big three engines (Google, Yahoo, and Bing) have finally started to diverge, much like the auto industry did in its early years. At first there was a plethora of small companies, mostly making custom vehicles, with varying levels of quality. Similarly, in the early days of the web, there arose a plethora of search engines (Lycos, HotBot, Alta Vista, Infoseek, etc. ad infinitum). Eventually, when Ford showed the superiority of the assembly line, consolidation began, and there became a correct and accepted definition of what a car was. And likewise, Google led the way in ushering in high levels of relevance, comprehensiveness, and speed – with Yahoo (and later Bing) following in tow, and at times even surpassing the leader. But those features are just table stakes now. It’s the natural progression in a product development life cycle in a competitive market: first match your competition, then differentiate.

I’ve purposely used the term “Search Tools” in the title of this article instead of “Search Engines” because now that we’ve finally got the underlying engines (or, platforms, to use the technical term) in place for search, the fun is just now starting! Google, Yahoo, and Bing are all starting to really innovate and offer different ways of searching. Just like cars, each has its own personality. (And, just like cars, sometimes they share some of the core elements, like Yahoo and Bing are doing for their “algorithmic web” and advertising content.)

To continue the auto metaphor, if you had an SUV, an all-electric sedan, and a sports car sitting in your driveway, which would you use? The answer is: it depends. Going on a ski trip? Heading out to pick up the kids? Need to get out and blow off some steam? It depends. The same will soon be true of your search tool – and since we all have all of these tools at our disposal, why not use them all?

Google recently launched “Google Instant”, which shows you search results as you type. It is really slick and really fast. Yahoo doesn’t have it, and neither does Bing. It is a fundamentally different way of interacting with a search tool. Some people love it, some hate it. And you can choose whether you want to use it. Personally, I find it too distracting – I don’t always want to live my life like I’m hopped up on caffeine. But I am not you, and you may find it a godsend. Give it a whirl and see.

Likewise, Yahoo just launched some pretty cool features around entertainment searches (like searching for movies, actors, musicians, TV shows, famous people, etc.) as well as searches about newsworthy topics. We’re able to recognize these real-world entities and give you all of the most relevant information and the ability to get things done right there at the top of the search results page. As an example, try searching for “The Social Network” on Yahoo. Not only do you immediately see ratings, showtimes in your area, and a link to a trailer, but you can also buy tickets and if you are a Netflix user, you can immediately add it to your queue (and if available, you can Instant Watch it – I especially like this last feature – so cool!) And, as you flip through the “accordion” tabs of Stories and Twitter, you get see see the most recent and relevant content – at your own pace. We’ve collected all of the “good stuff” in one place for you to browse at your leisure. If you do another search like “Lady Gaga“, the accordion changes accordingly to include News, Events (Shows), Albums, Videos, and Twitter. And get this: if you search for “Lady Gaga albums“, we’re smart enough to take you directly to the right tab. Collecting all the good, trusted stuff in one place – isn’t that what Yahoo was always known for?

Just like you wouldn’t drive your sports car on a camping trip, you can’t expect to always get the best results from your trusty old search engine anymore. So I invite you to explore. If you’re a Google user, try Yahoo for a week. If you’re a die-hard Yahoo fan, give Bing or Google a try. And keep exploring, because this is just the beginning of some exciting stuff in search.