Yahoo's plan to open its search index draws mixed reviews

Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS) offers access to Yahoo search index so third-party Web sites can build their own search engines.

Yahoo's move to provide third-party developers access to its entire search index could spawn a legion of smaller search engines that could take on Google, but it could also put Yahoo's own search business at risk, according to initial reviews in the blogosphere to the project Yahoo unveiled Thursday.

The new Build Your Own Search Service (BOSS) is a beta version of an API that offers access to the entire Yahoo search index so that third-party Web sites can build their own search engines. Yahoo said the move is aimed to "foster innovation in the search landscape". While many in the blogosphere characterized Yahoo's move as gutsy, some also questioned the effectiveness of such an action for a company that is mired in a bitter battle to fend off Microsoft.

Blogger Om Malik, for example, noted that BOSS is a bold move by the "hobbled giant," but he questioned if the move puts its own search business at risk.

"Notably, they are asking startups to sign up for their search monetization system, the very same system that is going to use Google to drum up ads," Malik said. "That isn't a very confidence-inspiring move. And if this monetization tool was so great, Yahoo wouldn't be in the kind of trouble it's in."

While the move could put Yahoo's own search business at risk, Malik said the risk is worth taking because it will shake up the search status quo.

"It helps people to think of Internet search beyond the tried and tired paradigm of proactively 'finding' information," Malik wrote. "Unlimited queries, the ability to mix with other content including news, and research from universities and other such repositories could really change the game. By allowing folks to use its engines in tandem with their proprietary data (such as a proprietary social graph), Yahoo will allow them to build a different kind of user experience."

Read Write Web's Marshall Kirkpatrick noted that with BOSS, Yahoo could spawn a community of smaller search players that together could challenge Google's chokehold on the market.

"BOSS is intended to level the playing field and blow the Big 3 wide open," Kirkpatrick noted. "We agree that it's very exciting to imagine thousands of new Yahoo powered niche search engines proliferating. Could Yahoo plus the respective strengths and communities of all these new players challenge Google? We think they could."

He went on to note that Yahoo is living up to the strategy it announced in April to open its Web platform to third-party developers.

"When it comes to Web standards, openness and support for the ecosystem of innovation - there may be no other major vendor online as strong as Yahoo is today," he added. "These are times of openness, where some believe that no single vendor's technology and genius alone can match the creativity of an empowered open market of developers. Yahoo is positioning itself as leader of this movement."

However, David Chartier, a blogger with Ars Technica, noted that while the potential for search mashups that use Yahoo's index is interesting, BOSS is "a somber statement from Yahoo that it doesn't seem interested, at least in the near future, of leading any of this innovation."

BOSS, Chartier added, appears like a move to let other search engines do the innovative work while Yahoo busily takes on its trials and tribulations with Microsoft so that "it will have a few prime candidates to snap up on the cheap and integrate in a few years."

But BOSS means big opportunities for the rest of the search market, he added.

"While Google has a strong lead, Yahoo is still one of the big three search players, and its index is nothing to scoff at," Chartier added. "Search startups now have a tremendous new resource to harness for their business, and built-in monetization for both third parties and Yahoo is a win for everyone. Yahoo's offering is a major step for search innovation, but also a quiet statement that Yahoo isn't planning on taking the lead."

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