Yahoo Labs chief sees real-time search opportunity

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc is considering developing new real-time search capabilities, even as it outsources its existing Internet search technology to Microsoft Corp.

A Yahoo! sign is seen in New York's Times Square November 18, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File

Yahoo’s Prabhakar Raghavan, head of Yahoo Labs, said that the company could potentially “mine” messages from Twitter, the popular microblogging service, to offer Web surfers search results beyond those offered by Microsoft’s Bing.

Bing is the Microsoft search engine that is to provide Yahoo’s standard search results, under the terms of a long-awaited partnership announced this week. [ID:nLU412795]

“I’ve always held that the interesting thing of Tweets is not necessarily searching them but mining them. So we could real-time mine them, then assemble what we mine into the search engine,” said Raghavan in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

By “mining” the data, Yahoo could offer search results far beyond a simple list of comments on Web sites, for instance, but instead could analyze data and group results by criteria ranging from topic to geography.

While Raghavan stressed that he was not “pre-announcing” any product plans, he said his comments were intended to paint a picture of some of the things that Yahoo is considering in its new form.

On Wednesday, Yahoo and Microsoft announced a 10-year partnership in which Yahoo will use Microsoft’s search and search advertising technology. The move will allow Yahoo to save some $425 million in operating expenses, the company said.

Raghavan said much of the savings will come from back-end infrastructure technology, now that Yahoo no longer invests in the resources to crawl and index the world’s vast number of Web sites.

But he said that Yahoo will continue to develop innovative search and communications products.

“In terms of satisfying user intent, the hard work and in some sense the bigger growth opportunities for differentiation are not the back-end of crawling and indexing, but really surfacing and assembling content the right way to satisfy user intent,” he said.

Real Time search is an increasingly popular online activity where Yahoo’s approach to search could provide a compelling user experience, Raghavan said.

Unlike traditional Internet search, which allows Web surfers to find Web pages on various topics, real-time search focuses on the flood of constantly updated messages posted by people using social networking services like Twitter.

A number of smaller private companies like Collecta and OneRiot have developed real time search products, as has Twitter itself, which offers its own search engine to cull through its Tweets.

Raghavan said that Yahoo sees value not only in the individual Twitter messages, but in the information that Yahoo could provide by analyzing the broader stream of Tweets and other real time data traveling across the Internet.

As an example, Raghavan said that a search on “LA Earthquake”, following a hypothetical temblor in Southern California, could return a map showing the concentration of Twitter messages from a certain neighborhood.

Raghavan also said that real-time data could increasingly be incorporated into future versions of Yahoo communications products, like Yahoo Mail, and that making deals to get access to feeds from companies like Twitter and Facebook could be worthwhile.

“Does it make sense to consider such deals? Absolutely. When you say do you need to, it depends on the business reality and the current market,” said Raghavan.

“It absolutely makes sense to think creatively on everything from getting the right feeds to crafting a different communications interface that combines the best elements of mail and some of these newer, emerging genres,” he said.

Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; editing by Carol Bishopric