Y! To Redefine Search: Good luck with that

Information Week called it Yahoo Aims To Redefine What It Means To Search.

Yahoo! called their press briefing Yahoo’s “End of the 10 Blue Links” Talk.

Color me underwhelmed.

Prabhakar Raghavan, their head of search strategy announced that Yahoo! will be “divining user intent.” Where did I hear that before? Oh yeah, it was in their press release upon buying Inktomi in 2002. (BTW, this was pretty easy to find on Google using the features Google announced last week).

When a user types “Star Trek,” Raghavan said, he doesn’t want 10 million documents, he wants actors and show times.” That would sound a lot more impressive if it didn’t so closely match this quote from 2006:

Searching for Robin Williams, for example, returns links for the artist’s page, downloads, videos, photos, and fan radio. In other words, Yahoo is pulling from Yahoo Movies, Yahoo Image Search, and Yahoo Music.”

Search Engine Watch review of Y!’s new features in 2006

Y!’s ideas sound good. They even took Answers.com‘s old mantra of “Answers, not links.”

One real problem is that all of Yahoo!’s current and future shortcuts and web objects combined will always be a relatively small subset of searches. StackOverflow’s Joel Spolsky recently wondered why 86% of their traffic came from Google, and almost none from the other search engines. We see a fairly similar breakdown of our search engine traffic. The answer appears to be that Google completely owns the long tail of the search market, and that’s where most of the market is. So essentially Y! is waving the white flag on the big market and trying to catch a little more of a niche.

The other problem is that Y!’s revolutionary vision is a restatement of what they’ve been saying for years. And what they, Ask.com, Answers.com, Google, and others already do pretty well. And they’ve shown no real evidence of making significant progress in these areas.

Here’s one more from our archives:Yahoo’s Search Engine Continues Evolving

“As part of the changes, Yahoo has formally unveiled a number of “shortcuts,” methods to get directly to answers or specialty search results using words.” …

“Ask Jeeves also recently moved to insert direct answers into its results, in what it calls “smart answers,” so you may be assuming that this will be the next big thing to sweep search engines since Google revived AltaVista’s original use of tabs.”

The same post discusses how Y! was able to parse “skateboard shops Pasadena” into a Yellow Pages query in Pasadena. Sounds a lot like “divining user intent” and all the other buzzwords Y! keeps spouting. BTW, the post above is from Danny Sullivan, covering the “New Yahoo!’ Search” back in 2003. It gets worse when the post continues with:

“This may well be the case, but ironically, we’ve had direct answers before. Back in 1998, then greatly expanded in 1999, Excite was doing what both Yahoo and Ask Jeeves have rolled out years later, using trigger word shortcuts and showing “answers” within its matches. Regardless of who did it first, it’s nice to see such functionality return.”

Sorry Yahoo! Your grand vision might sound more promising if it weren’t something you’ve been promising and failing to deliver for most of the decade.