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Yahoo’s BOSS program doesn’t go far enough: Why not open up Yahoo search traffic?

Yahoo BOSS is a neat toy for mashup fans, but doesn’t help where you need it to
There’s recently been a spate of articles about Yahoo’s cutely named BOSS program (Build your Own Search Service) at Cnet, Techcrunch, GigaOm, and others. Techcrunch’s headline is that “Yahoo Radically Opens Web Search With BOSS.”

Yet when I read more about the program, it seems pretty bland IMHO:

BOSS allows developers to submit queries (and their associated
parameters) via an API to retrieve up to 50 web, image, news, or
spelling results in XML or JSON format at a time. Per Yahoo’s policy,
developers will be required to display its ads next to, or within,
their results (although this requirement won’t be imposed until later,
Yahoo plans to offer CPM fees as an alternative, and academics will be
exempt from any such attempts at monetization completely).

To me, this seems like a neat little service, but it won’t change the world- this will just let companies do neat search mashups. Given all the hype around APIs and mashups in recent years, can you think of one mashup company that was commercially successful? I challenge the readers of this blog to name some examples ;-)

The problem is, how will the companies that implement this cool technology end up with any traffic? Seems like this program is a recipe for a bunch of neat PR-generating techie projects without real traction, which is arguably not what Yahoo needs right now.

Search engine result pages as Platforms

I mentioned in a previous blog post on Google’s second click that ultimately, the search engine results page is the “platform” on which these portals build. After capturing the first click, via search, they can start building out products to capture subsequent traffic, for example driving address queries into Google Maps. The power in this approach is that huge amounts of traffic go through the SERPs, which then drive traffic to related properties.

Now compare this approach to what Yahoo is offering through BOSS, which lets you harness their infrastructure but doesn’t provide any traffic to back you up.

Opening up Yahoo Search traffic, not just the APIs

The extreme approach – well not even that extreme these days, given Facebook – would be to let developers build extensions to the search engine that actually run on top of the *.yahoo.com domain. They can provide an API, do app approvals, and direct only small bits of traffic to each app to test them out – then ramp up the ones that perform better than anything else. There are difficult pieces necessary to make this work, but if done well, it has the potential to change the search game by letting developers target small groups of queries the way that advertisers have been able to.

Maybe in the scheme of things, this is too risky of a move for Yahoo at a time when they are focused on smoothing out revenue growth so everyone can keep their jobs ;-) So perhaps a better player to try something like this out would be Ask, Looksmart, or even Microsoft!

Thoughts and suggestions welcome…

UPDATE: I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the ideas above are implemented in early form by Yahoo SearchMonkey, which I heard about but clearly need to dig into. It looks like these search add-ons go into a clunky gallery that users have to add to their results, which means they still need to work on helping developers get better distribution among the Yahoo search users. You’d think that one of the lessons from the Facebook platform would be that platforms need to build distribution channels into their product above and beyond the APIs that are provided. Thanks to Oren for illuminating me on the SearchMonkey point.

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