At Yahoo's press event yesterday, there was some grilling about the new features in search and how much of that had to do with the long-anticipated search deal the company cut with Microsoft last month.If you'll recall, the 10-year pact between the two companies involved Microsoft powering Yahoo search and Yahoo becoming the sales force for Microsoft's premium properties. When they announced the deal, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the deal gave Bing the scale it needed to compete while Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said they would bring "boatlaods of value for our users and industry."
It's yet to be seen if Bing can make a dent in the search game. But, for Yahoo, yesterday's announcements about changes to search, Mail, Messenger and Mobile show just how the company that was once the crown jewel of Silicon Valley can, in fact, turn it around and make a comeback.
OK, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself there. But the fact of the matter is that Yahoo is doing some pretty interesting things with search - notably, the search results - that gives users reason to not only turn to Yahoo to find what they're looking for but to stick around for a while, too.
Prabhakar Raghavan, senior VP of Yahoo Labs and Search Strategy explained that the deal with Microsoft doesn't keep Yahoo from trying to differentiate itself as a search player that offers more, just as Microsoft can do the same with Bing. Yahoo's focus is no longer on the technology that powers search and trying to beat the competition with it - the "megawatt war," if you will. Instead, it wants to take that technology and channel it in such a way that users will want to come back to Yahoo every time they have a query. (See video below) At the press event, Raghavan said:
Let me just say that the agreement calls for Microsoft to supply us with algorithmic Web search results, images and video. Just as their front-end team is free to innovate on top of that layer, we will be free to innovate on top of that layer. So, it's not that it calls for any specific collaboration beyond that. In fact, I fully anticipate that our front-end experience will evolve differently from that of Bing... The way to think about it is the back end, what I call grabbing of billions of pages and traversing indexes to serve results, that's sort of the megawatt war and that's what we're getting out of it. So, we don't fight the megawatt war. What we want to compete on is the front end exp that has to do with what is the user trying to get done, what user intent signals do we have and how can we crate the use experience that makes that user happier when they use our metrics and we fully expect Bing will do the same.
The search demo yesterday really made me stop and think about how we use search and what we get back when we conduct a query. What I really liked about Yahoo's approach was that it took a real-life view of what real people are searching for. The left column - which provided links to related sites that could offer not just related, but relevant, information - was a good call by Yahoo.
Sure, Bing and Google had some of the same results but the differentiator in this case was the presentation. But is presentation enough?
Maybe. Remember: Yahoo used to be the crown jewel of Silicon Valley, the Internet's main search engine. But it grew beyond that, and suddenly the Web audience was impressed with the simplicity of this newcomer known as Google. Fast-forward years later and suddenly Yahoo had a big takeover target on its back and was being mocked as an Internet has-been while Google continued to grow, grow, grow.
I wouldn't be surprised if Yahoo - given the time and resources to focus on customer experience instead of back-end technology - gains some ground and starts building itself back up.
Stranger things have happened.