Yahoo BOSS Might Be Bigger Than Bing

One of the least appreciated, but smartest, moves Yahoo has made in the past year is to launch Yahoo BOSS, its open search APIs which lets developers create their own custom search engine using Yahoo’s algorithms. We use it to power search across the TechCrunch network. And we are not alone. It has become immensely popular.

By last May, Yahoo BOSS was serving up 30 million search queries a day. You can see the rapid growth in search volume in the chart above, which comes from a Technology Review profile of Vik Singh, the 24-year-old engineer who was one of the main champions behind Yahoo BOSS. (He is one of Technology Review’s 2009 Innovators Under 35)

At 30 million queries a day, that comes out to about 900 million queries a month, which would make Yahoo BOSS the fourth largest search engine in the U.S. with about a 6 percent share. That is just below the 9 percent share (and 1.2 billion queries a month) comScore estimates for Bing.

But that is based on data from April. The chart is missing the last three months because Yahoo won’t update the numbers (I asked). Depending on the growth rate of Yahoo BOSS search queries since then, BOSS should now either be at par with Bing or even slightly larger. Between February, 2009 and April, 2009, search queries grew 50 percent (from 20 million a day to 30 million). Here are three different growth scenarios for the period May through July and the corresponding search volume numbers they would imply:

    Growth Scenarios
  1. 50 percent growth = 45 million queries a day = 1.35 billion queries a month
  2. 40 percent growth = 42 million queries a day = 1.26 billion queries a month
  3. 30 percent growth = 39 million queries a day = 1.17 billion queries a month

Remember, Bing was at an estimated 1.21 billion queries a month for the month of July. So BOSS might very well be as big as Bing. In fact, a couple months before the Bing-Yahoo deal, I kept hearing from people connected to Yahoo that BOSS on its own was bigger than Microsoft search. Now Microsoft owns BOSS as part of its deal to take over Yahoo’s search operations.

On the day the deal was announced, Microsoft SVP Yusuf Mehdi told me that he wants to keep BOSS alive because “there is a lot of goodness there.” I’ll say. It adds about another six points to Bing’s overall search volume market share. (Click the market share table below to enlarge).

Update: After some reflection (and sleep), I think it is less likely that BOSS is bigger than Bing. First, as has been noted in comments, the comScore numbers are only for the U.S., while the BOSS numbers are worldwide. So best case scenario (assuming the U.S. accounts for only half of Bing searches, which is the industry norm), BOSS is really only half the size of Bing proper. That is still quite significant.

But there is something else to consider as well. Bing also has an API, which back in March served 3 billion queries. Microsoft tells me that number has increased by more than 50 percent, so Bing’s own unmetered APIs are responsible for many more searches than BOSS, and are also not counted in the comScore data. All of this underlines the larger point here, which is that opening up search to outside developers is a powerful way to gain search query share.