Can Yahoo steal the search throne from Google with Search Pad?

Yahoo is set to launch a new search feature this week that could give the embattled company an opportunity to do what it - as well as others - have been able to do in recent years: truly challenge Google in the search business.I know.
Written by Sam Diaz, Inactive

Yahoo is set to launch a new search feature this week that could give the embattled company an opportunity to do what it - as well as others - have been able to do in recent years: truly challenge Google in the search business.

I know. It's a bold statement to make but stay with me for a minute.

The new feature, called Search Pad, is a cloud-based smart tool that recognizes when a user may be doing research through search queries. In a demo the company gave me today, the user was looking up some information about digital cameras. After the third Yahoo search for information about cameras, a small pop-up appeared and asked if it should be taking notes. Reply with a yes and the sites you've been searching are there, with headline, excerpt and link. From there, you can add anything you want - maybe a user review from the Amazon page for a specific model - and Search Pad will grab the page title and a link, too.

So why is this such a game changer and how can it possible disrupt Google's hold on search? For some time, every other search engine that's come on board - from Ask to Cuil to Bing - has criticized Google for offering an unmanageable number of results for its queries. Yahoo is doing the same with its pitch for this feature - but it's taking it a step further.

Yahoo, in trying to understand real-world uses for search, recognized that, when people do research for a particular topic, they usually start with a search query. And almost always, they find themselves needing something - whether a Word doc on the screen or a notebook sitting next to the keyboard - to jot down some notes.

Shopping for a new car? You probably start by doing some homework on the Web. Looking for some medical information? You hammer out a search query. Trying to shop flights and hotels for an upcoming vacation? Yup. You get the picture, right?

Here's the catch: If you want Search Pad to track your research, you'll need to run your queries through the Yahoo search engine, not Google or Bing or anyone else out there. Interestingly enough, Google this year announced that it was stopping development on Google Notebook.

At Yahoo's annual shareholder's meeting last month, CEO Carol Bartz said that Yahoo is "not Google," which she referred to as "basically a pure search company."  Back in March, at the Morgan Stanley Technology Conference, Bartz said the data that the search business provides is "extremely important" to Yahoo and is information the company has to have.

You'll recall that it has been Yahoo's search business that Microsoft has long had its eye on. After Yahoo rejected Microsoft's acquisition bid last year - a move that led to Carol Bartz eventually taking the CEO title hand-off from co-founder Jerry Yang - there was plenty of chatter about Microsoft wanting to buy Yahoo's search business only, not the whole company.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has publicly said he's still interested in a deal but Bartz has played it cool, careful to not give any hints one way or the other about a search deal with Microsoft.

Taking all of this into consideration, I wouldn't say that Search Pad alone will help Yahoo reclaim its throne as the Internet Search King. But I do think it's done what the other Google challengers (itself included) has been unable to do in the past - give users a legitimate reason to choose one search engine over another.

Search Pad alone may not be reason enough for the masses to switch search engines (though it might be for me). With that said, I wouldn't be surprised to see more tools - real tools with real value - that are tied directly to Yahoo's search engine in the future.

Because Search Pad is cloud-based, it works with any browser (yes, even Chrome) on any platform. The search pads are linked to your Yahoo account when saved and can be shared and printed from the search pad app. There is nothing to download or install.

Search Pad goes live at 9 p.m. Pacific Time tomorrow (Midnight ET on Wednesday).

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