Ever wanted to take a crack at making a better version of the Yahoo search engine? Now’s your chance.
Yahoo announced a new initiative Thursday called Build Your Own Search Service, or BOSS. It’s a set of programming tools developers can use to tailor Yahoo’s search index for their own use.
As part of the program’s launch, Yahoo is making its web, news and images index available to developers immediately. BOSS will allow developers who sign up for a public API key to manipulate rankings and the overall appearance of the search pages, as well as create mashups of the data with other data sources.
“The goal here really is to have a proliferation of net-search experiences — to build innovation around what people can do, how search can be done, what the relevancy models are” said Yahoo senior director of its open search platform Bill Michels told Webmonkey. “[We want to] really change and give some guns out for other people to really start building great search products. In the process of that there will be some disruption of the current search marketplace.”
The service is provided for free on the condition that Yahoo advertisements may be added to results in the months to come.
“At launch, there will be no requirements to take Yahoo sponsored search,” said Michels. “This is something we will be adding over time as we get comfortable with how the landscape transpires to be.”
Yahoo will share a portion of ad revenue generated by your version of Yahoo search. The impetus, beyond ad revenue, is also an attempt by Yahoo to diversify the competition — hopefully in a blow to the current market leader, Google.
Google actually tried something similar with its Google custom search program, which basically fed Google search results to your site, but doesn’t match BOSS’ customization.
Examples of BOSS include a “Cover Flow” version of Yahoo search results that allow you to flip through images of screenshots matching search listings — similar to the CD-cover-art browser in Apple’s iTunes. Another example included results that mashed-up Yahoo search listings with Twitter tweets culled from the microblogging service’s API.
A cover-flow version of Yahoo search results uses BOSS.
Yahoo is obviously feeling the pinch to compete more fiercely with Google for developers. The company is facing a buyout threat from Microsoft, as well as criticism for its over-diversification and concentration on non-search products. In a sense, BOSS signals a move back to the basics for the company, as it zeros in on what was once its strongest product — a better search engine.
Yahoo made some initial steps toward this model with the May release of SearchMonkey, a similar service that lets developers change the appearance of their site’s listing in Yahoo’s search results. But BOSS goes one step further by letting developers use — and improve– Yahoo’s base search technology. It’s not a true open search engine, like that being developed by Search Wikia, the open source project headed by Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, but it is a step towards openness and collaboration that Yahoo hopes will help it gain the necessary mindshare to compete with Google.
“The reality today is there are three major search engines that dominate the market, [Google] more than the others,” Michel admits. “For such a fantastic business, there’s really not many others that participate in it. The reason is simple: Doing at parity, or doing search at this baseline level, is incredibly hard stuff.”
Does this mean purely open source projects like Search Wiki don’t stand a chance? Michel thinks they’ve got a long road ahead of them. As he points out, the talent pool is already pretty shallow, given how in-demand these developers are — not to mention how lucrative it is to join the ranks of the “big three” search engine providers.
“[Search requires] hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars in capital or investment in hardware, servers, bandwidth, you name it. It also requires an incredibly unique sort of talent. There are not that many people out there that are that experienced [and] can set these things up. These guys are very much in demand and hard to come by.”
BOSS will be hosted in Yahoo’s developer network. To start your own search engine using Yahoo data, sign up for an API key at Yahoo’s developer network. The API works much like any web framework. Query the API, and you will get an XML file of search results that match your query. Yahoo will also provide a mash-up library in the Python programming language.