Yahoo considers spurning Google for Inktomi

The Internet portal is trialling Inktomi's search engine in Australia with a view to replacing Google

Internet portal giant Yahoo has given one of its strongest indications yet that it will soon end its reliance on Web search technology provider Google.

Yahoo Australia search producer Peter Crowe has revealed that the company had started testing Inktomi's search engine in parallel with projects at a number of the company's regional portals to see if it provides a viable alternative to Google's crawler-based search engine.

Crowe indicated that if Inktomi could produce results relevant to each region's market, then the company would not hesitate to make the switch.

The trial will involve benchmarking Inktomi against a number of search engines, including Google.

"If the Inktomi results are better for Australian users, we'll switch to Inktomi... and if they end up being better for each region it will be used there," said Crowe.

Crowe said the decision to make the switch will be made on case-by-case basis, with each region assessing how well Inktomi produces search results relevant to the local market.

"When -- and if -- we use Inktomi in Australia I'll come and tell you that we've done it on the back of the quality of the results," he said.

Speculation that Yahoo was manoeuvring to wean itself off Google grew after it announced it would buy Inktomi in December 2002.

When Yahoo finalised the purchase in March this year, the company said it needed to avoid becoming dependent on a single third-party provider in order to ensure it could "control its own destiny".

Yahoo agreed to use Google's search engine for its algorithmic (non-paid) search facility in October 2002, and it has been using the service in conjunction with all of its portals with the exception of a few serving Asian markets.

Yahoo's agreement with Google isn't due to expire until late 2004, but according to Crowe, its contract with the search provider doesn't contain any exclusivity clauses.

Still, Yahoo Australia is reluctant to put a firm time-frame on its plans should Inktomi pass relevance testing saying that they would be carried out in the "medium-term".

When asked if there was some deficiency in the Google engine for Yahoo's portal plans, Crowe was coy:

"I have a hunch but until they have scientific results to support that, I'm not going to be making any kind of [public statement]".

The trials closely follow Yahoo Australia and New Zealand's decision to give its portal a major overhaul. The logistics of using the portal's search facility have been simplified, with an emphasis on localising and personalising the user's experience.

Region-specific queries about weather automatically return forecast information for the area the user is interested in addition to links to meteorology sites. Users who are willing to get familiar with using Yahoo's brand-inspired "-!" suffix will be able to convert common terms into content short-cuts. For example a query on mail! will take the user directly to his or her Yahoo mailbox.

Users can also customise the manner in which the engine retrieves results, giving them the option to store preferences on adult-content filtering and result presentation.