Yahoo Search, As We Know It, Is Over

scoreboardEarlier today, we were at Yahoo’s “End of the 10 Blue Links” event. Basically, it was their state of search gathering, similar to the “Searchology” event that Google had last week. But there was a key difference, as anyone who was following along with the live notes likely saw: Google’s was interesting. Yahoo’s was not.

That’s not necessarily to say that Yahoo isn’t working on anything interesting in search — it is. BOSS, its open search strategy and Search Monkey, its open search application platform, are interesting, but they’re also old. In fact, part of today was used to highlight Search Monkey’s one year anniversary. One year may not seem like a long time, but in a constantly innovating web, especially in the search space, it is. And there’s a much larger problem with those two offerings: They’re not particularly interesting to end users on a large scale.

I bring that up because Yahoo is still losing search share. As it slips closer to 20 percent in the U.S., Google keeps gaining share, up to 64.2% in April, according to comScore. I don’t want to say that there is no way for Yahoo to reverse that trend, but with the things it’s currently doing, I see no way it can. Even if (and probably “when”) it does merge its search business with Microsoft’s search business, the two combined will only have about 28% of the search market in the U.S. — well below half of Google’s share.

So what the hell is Yahoo doing? Well I can tell you what they’re not doing. They’re not focusing on launching sexy-looking new ways to interpret search data on the front end, like Google is. 13At today’s event, Yahoo did show off some new ways of displaying search results that are being bucket-tested. But when question after question kept asking when those would launch, Yahoo kept basically saying “when they’re ready.” And, to be honest, they were really nothing to write home about anyway.

Yahoo is using its BOSS and Search Monkey products to gather up new data for better results, but none of it is likely as interesting as Google say, trying to index the world’s books.

Here’s what else Yahoo is not doing: Focusing on real-time search. I asked a question about their thoughts on that sexy trend right now, and the various execs at the event all downplayed its importance — calling it a “buzzword.” On some levels they’re right, many real-time search queries like certain results on Twitter search are basically meaningless. But there is an underlying power to real-time search that is undeniable, and that users want. That’s why we’re seeing so many companies working on it right now.

Google recognizes the trend, and is starting to talk about it very seriously. And Twitter is going the other way to add link crawling to its results, to make its real-time search offering much more robust. Prabhakar Raghavan, the head of Yahoo! Labs and Yahoo! Search Strategy did say that Yahoo would like to “blend the best of both” meaning mix fresh content with relevant content, but offered no firm plans as to what the company was working on to do that, beyond what it’s already doing — which isn’t enough.

Here’s what Yahoo is doing with its search product based on what they were saying at today’s event: They’re moving from returning links to returning objects based on user intent. But come on, even after we parse the buzzwords (interesting, when you consider that Yahoo called real-time search a buzzword), there’s still not much there. This is the same thing that basically all the search engines have been saying for years now. The web is about more than just links — shocking.

searching_for_bobby_fischerWhile a new search engine like Wolfram Alpha is actually taking a different approach to search, Yahoo is just trying to display things in a different way to users. They’re saying they’re going to display “objects” rather than links, but that just means they’ll show pictures, movie show times and other slightly more useful cousins of web links in results. Google does that too. So does Microsoft. So does Ask. So does AOL.

You can call it whatever you want: Objects, rich results, pretty picture things — this alone is not a way Yahoo is going to reverse its search share trend. At some point Google will stop taking search share from its competitors (at the very least when it reaches 100%), but Google is synonymous with web search right now, and that is not going to change anytime soon. Especially when Google’s innovations in the space trump Yahoo’s.

Yahoo search may have a window with its mobile offerings — and it played that up today by saying that while about 1 billion people in the world use PCs, 4 billion people use cellphones. But that’s almost more contingent on worldwide mobile carrier deals that any kind of real innovation. Can Yahoo wheel and deal and own that space? We’ll see, but again Google is doing some kick-ass things in mobile search with its voice search technology.

Yahoo can downplay something like real-time search, but at least that’s something different than being the “other Google.” Sadly, with its search product, that’s what Yahoo has become.