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Yahoo aims to 'open up' typically closed search engines

SearchMonkey tools can add reviews, images, ratings and other information to search results

By Heather Havenstein
May 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Yahoo Inc. today officially launched its new SearchMonkey development platform that will allow developers to add pertinent information like ratings, reviews, images, contact information and navigational links to search results.

Yahoo had first announced plans for SearchMonkey in February, promising that the new technology would let Web site owners share structured data with Yahoo by using markups, standardized XML feeds, APIs and page extraction. The data sharing will allow third-party developers to build SearchMonkey applications that provide a better experience for users.

"The search engine experience hasn't changed ... it's pretty much the same as when search engines and the Internet were a technical space for academics," said Amit Kumar, director of product management for Yahoo search. "It is time for search results to experience change and be more useful to users. Search engines have typically been closed; they have been black boxes with little room for innovation. It's time for us to open up this canvas to external parties ... opening up one of the last closed areas on the Web."

For example, he said, a developer could build an application that would include a person's photo from his Facebook page when someone searches on his name. Or a restaurant listing could be enhanced with user reviews, ratings and directions appearing in the search results.

Developers can build two types of applications using SearchMonkey -- enhanced results and infobars.

Enhanced results would replace the current standard results with a richer display, Yahoo said. All the links in enhanced results must point to the site to which the result refers, according to the company. Infobars, added below search results, can include metadata about the result like related links or content, it added.

Although there is no plan in place to help developers earn money from the applications they create on SearchMonkey, Kumar predicted that programmers will benefit by gaining fame for building applications that attract the attention of future employers.

Yahoo expects to launch a gallery of SearchMonkey applications in the next few weeks, Kumar added.

To kick-start developer interest in SearchMonkey, Yahoo today announced the launch of the SearchMonkey Developer Challenge that will award up to $10,000 to developers who create top applications.

Even with the contest, Kumar acknowledged that the execution of SearchMonkey will be a "tough act." We hope we are doing the right things in terms of disincentives for abuse, the right tools for developers and the right experience for users.

"For us, search is an extremely core business -- it contributes a large percentage of our revenue. We're putting our money where out mouth is saying, 'We've got to open this up.' Yahoo should act as an open platform. With it will come all the trials and tribulations, but we are set to do that. The reason we are open is because we want to create a lot of rich user experiences across all our Web sites," Kumar said.

He noted that all applications that are submitted will be reviewed carefully and only those that improve the search experience for users will be approved.

Read more about App Development in Computerworld's App Development Topic Center.

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