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Hey Yahoo! Forget MSFT, GOOG. Change the Search Rules.


These I wish I knew the moment I was turned off on Yahoo and what the root cause may be, but I no longer use anything Yahoo (except my Flickr account if you want to count that).

Vince DeGeorge, on FriendFeed

I was doing the same thing until I started using delicious as a search tool. Finally realized how powerful it was, and have been using it since.

Shaun McLane, on FriendFeed

I have previously written that Delicious search is one of the best ways of searching for things when a standard search doesn’t pull up what you are looking for. After Google, it is my favorite “search engine.”

Michael Arrington, TechCrunch, Delicious Integrated Into Yahoo Search Results

The latest news is that Microsoft is reaching out to Yahoo again. In fact, a couple reports (here, here) say that Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo’s search business.

Before any such transaction occurs, it seems worthwhile to think about what Yahoo could do with its existing assets. The three comments above are insightful. Yahoo is slowly losing share of mind, although it’s existing base of users will be around for a while. At the same time, there are nuggets in the Yahoo empire.

Search via del.icio.us ranks as one of those nuggets. Another nugget? Yahoo! Buzz. According to ReadWriteWeb, Yahoo! Buzz has surpassed Digg in terms of traffic, and its demographics better reflect web users.

Yet, Yahoo struggles against Google in the highly lucrative search market. Google increased to 67.9% of searches in April 2008, compared to Yahoo’s decline to 20.3% of searches.

What should Yahoo do? Stop playing Google’s game. Rewrite the search rules by embracing the social web fully, leveraging the social media assets it has.

And in doing so, demonstrate an aggressive path to make Yahoo a social media titan.

A Proposal for “Socializing” Yahoo Search

In January 2008, TechCrunch ran a post with a preview of del.icio.us integrated with regular Yahoo search results. Included in the search result links would be stats that tell a user:

  • Number of del.icio.us users who bookmarked the page
  • The top tags they used on the page

Both of those stats appear to be clickable. By clicking on the number of users stat, I assume a user would be taken to the del.icio.us page showing the users who bookmarked the page. If one clicked a tag, you’d land on the del.icio.us page for all web pages with that tag.

That’s a good start. But Yahoo can do better. Below is a diagram that shows how Yahoo can use its existing assets, combined with a good dose of the new social media experience, to radically change search:

Here’s a breakdown of what’s going on with the proposal.

Search Rankings

From what I’ve read, Yahoo has pretty much caught up to Google in terms of search performance. That means the use of links and clicks to rank websites is pretty common across the two search engines. However, Google does have the advantage of three times the traffic, which makes its insight into what’s relevant better than Yahoo.

But Yahoo has its own in-house advantages: del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz. Both address shortcomings in the links and clicks rankings for search engines:

  • Links require a media site or blogger to take the time to link. These links are insightful, but lack the broader reach of what Web users find relevant.
  • Clicks occur before a searcher knows whether the landing site is valuable. They don’t describe its usefulness after someone has clicked onto the site.

With del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz, Yahoo can tap into users sentiments about websites in a way that Google cannot. These insights can be used to influence the ranking of search results.

Search Results – Your Friends or Everyone

Here’s where it can really interesting. Notice I keep the general search results outside the influence of what your friends think. I think that’s important. A person should see results outside their own social circle. Otherwise, it will be hard to find new content.

But there is real power in seeing what your friends find valuable (e.g. see FriendFeed). So Yahoo should let you easily subscribe to other people for content discovery. Yahoo already has a head start on letting you set up your subscriptions:

  • Yahoo Mail
  • Yahoo Instant Messenger

In addition to that, you should be able to easily subscribe to anyone who publicly shares content they find interesting. Both del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz have public-facing lists for every user of what they bookmark or ‘buzz’. After viewing those lists, I should be able to easily subscribe to these users.

Once your network is developed, it becomes a powerful basis for improving information discovery.

Search Results – Associated Tags

Whenever tags are available from del.icio.us, they should be visible for each web site shown in the search results. This is what TechCrunch previewed. What do tags tell a user?

  • A way to discover other sites that might be relevant
  • Context for the web site
  • That someone thought enough of the web page to actually tag it

Tags should come in two flavors: everyone and your network. Clicking on a tag should display the top 10 associated sites right on the search results page. For more sites associated to the tag, the user is taken to del.icio.us.

Keeping the top sites on the search results page is important to make people use the functionality. Leaving the search results page just to see the sites associated to a tag will cause adoption to drop signficantly.

Search Results – Associated People

Each web page in the search results will show the number of people who have (i) bookmarked the site; or (ii) Yahoo! Buzzed the site. These numbers give a direct indication of how many people, not websites, found the web page valuable.

Clicking these numbers displays a list of the people, along with their most recent activity. This gives users a sense of whether they want to subscribe to a given user or not.

Search Agent

Once users perform a search, they will be able to subscribe to new content matching their search results. These subscriptions can be based on different criteria:

  • Any new content matching the search term (Google does this via Google Alerts) or a tag
  • Any new content matching the search term/tag and bookmarked by someone to whom the user subscribes
  • Any new content matching the search term/tag and Yahoo! Buzzed by someone to whom the user subscribes
  • Any new bookmarks or Yahoo! Buzzes by someone to whom the user subscribes

New content notifications occur via email or RSS. RSS can be anywhere, including on the user’s My Yahoo page. Again, FriendFeed has shown the power of these content streams.

Final Thoughts

My little post here isn’t the only idea someone could float. But it does at least address taking Yahoo much more deeply into the social media world, where users drive the value.

Yahoo revealed details of a proposed del.icio.us integration back in mid-January. And then nothing. Yahoo previewed Yahoo Mash, a new social network in September 2007. And then…nothing. The last post on the Yahoo Mash blog was January 11, 2008.

Yahoo has so many amazing assets. Search, email, portal home page. Several beloved social media apps (Flickr, del.icio.us, Upcoming). Yet they have not put them together into a cohesive strategy and experience.

And now, talk of selling the search business? C’mon Yahoo. You’ve got too much going on to give up yet. Stop playing by others’ rules. Make your own rules with the amazing assets you have.

*****

See this item on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/e/1b07226a-b51b-f386-fbb8-bdaece83e9fe

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About Hutch Carpenter
Senior Consultant for HYPE Innovation (hypeinnovation.com)

6 Responses to Hey Yahoo! Forget MSFT, GOOG. Change the Search Rules.

  1. sachendra says:

    Great post, I hope Yahoo guys are listening.
    Would hate to see Yahoo’s potential get squandered by Microsoft.

  2. @Sachendra – agree. Yahoo has some really nice assets that it just hasn’t integrated real well. And if they integrated del.icio.us and Yahoo! Buzz into their search results, they’ll see a nice increase in adoption of those two services.

  3. John Furrier says:

    great post. there is a new paradigm around search and you’ve nailed a direction that yahoo could take. search discovery is flipping around where the information finds the user rather than the other way around

  4. @John – thanks! No one of any size is doing anything like this, and Yahoo has the assets to make it happen. It’s better than trying to beat Google at their own game.

  5. yahoo-user says:

    SearchMonkey from Yahoo! can be used for doing these kind of things

  6. Pingback: I’ve Joined Connectbeam, and Social Media Got Me the Job « I’m Not Actually a Geek

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