Analysts welcome clarity on Yahoo BOSS plans

The search developer program's future has been in question

Yahoo has gone a long way toward further dispelling the uncertainty around its BOSS search developer program with the establishment last week of a fee structure for it and with the pledge to upgrade its functionality in the coming months, analysts said.

The future of BOSS, whose platform developers can use to build custom search engines on Yahoo's infrastructure, fell into question for more than a year after the company signed its search partnership with Microsoft in mid-2009.

In August of last year, Yahoo finally clarified its plans for BOSS, saying it would keep it but providing few details, while announcing that other search developer programs would be phased out, like Search Monkey.

More details came in October, when Yahoo pledged an upgrade for 2011 and announced that it would add fees to the program while also offering revenue-generating options for developers. Yahoo unveiled the fee structure and more specifics for the upgrade last week.

"It was imperative that Yahoo clarify for the BOSS developer community what the availability and the business terms would be for BOSS going forward. The work on the Yahoo and Microsoft Search Alliance delayed this announcement for over a year, which is an eternity for many startup search projects," IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds said via e-mail.

The fee structure includes a top-tier option, called Full Web, that delivers result links to general Web pages, images and news articles. It will cost US$0.80 per 1,000 queries.

The less-expensive Limited Web service tier plucks its results from an index that is smaller and refreshed less frequently, and costs $0.40 per 1,000 queries.

Options for an image-only index ($0.30 per 1,000 queries) and for a news article-only index ($0.10 per 1,000 queries) will also be offered.

Yahoo also said it plans to offer assistance to developers who wish to monetize their BOSS search applications through search and display ads.

"This new announcement appears to be a reasonable and simple approach that should replace the opaque non-statements the Yahoo BOSS managers had been constrained to during 2010 with a go-forward plan that most will find easy to live with. The BOSS offer is unique in the market, and Yahoo is wise to keep this cloud service in its stable of business-to-business offerings," Reynolds said.

Ted Manahan, a graduate forestry student at Colorado State University, is evaluating BOSS for use in a research project, but hasn't yet determined how well the BOSS index will work for his topics and purposes.

He's also not clear what BOSS will cost him; he won't be able to offset the cost through the use of advertising because the search application would be research-oriented and not commercial.

"Any fees are purely expenses that my research project will have to bear. The fees are small, but we do run a large number of very simple queries," he said via e-mail.

The natural evolution of BOSS pointed toward a fee-based model, especially after Microsoft and Yahoo signed their search partnership, which calls for mutual collaboration and revenue sharing, said analyst Charlene Li from Altimeter Group.

"All free things come to an end, and this is no different," she said via e-mail.

Yahoo is transitioning its back-end search infrastructure to Bing, on which BOSS will also run. The global transition of Yahoo's search infrastructure and search ad system is expected to be complete next year. It's already been completed in North America.

"BOSS was a wonderful playground for developers to try out new ideas and services," Li said. "If you're going to play with BOSS, you have to pay for the privilege."

As part of the search agreement, Yahoo will rely on Bing for Web crawling, site indexing and result matching and ranking, as well as on Microsoft's AdCenter for self-service sales of pay-per-click text search ads.

In turn, Yahoo will be in charge of premium, guaranteed-placement search ads and of managing relationships with big advertisers, search-marketing firms, resellers and their clients.

Yahoo said last week that technical documentation on BOSS V2, as the company calls the next version of the developer program, will be provided by March 1st. Yahoo plans to roll out BOSS V2 this summer.

BOSS stands for Build Your Own Search Service and is aimed at developers of all sizes, including individuals, startups and large companies.

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