Russian search engine Yandex gets a semantic injection

Yandex, Russia’s leading search engine which is thought to be mulling over an IPO for up to $1.5 billion, is rolling out a new feature today that aims to make its search experience seem a lot more intelligent.

Dubbed “Spectrum” and claiming to be able to read users’ minds, it uses what sounds like a combination of semantic technology and machine learning to “infer implicit queries and return matching search results.” In other words, Spectrum is able to make better sense of the meaning of searches based on its own classification system.

It’s based on what Yandex describes as query statistics:

The system analyses users’ searches and identifies objects like personal names, films or cars. Each object is then classified into one or more categories, e.g. ‘film’, ‘car’, ‘medicine’. For each category there is a range of search intents. [For example] the ‘product’ category will have search intents such as buy something or read customer reviews.

So we have a degree of natural language processing, taxonomy, all tied into “intent”, which sounds like a very good recipe for highly efficient advertising.

But what if a search query has many potential meanings? Yandex says that Spectrum is able to choose the category and the range of potential user intents for each query to match a user’s expectations as close as possible. It does this by looking at historic search patterns. If the majority of users searching for “gone with the wind” expect to find a film, the majority of search results will be about the film, not the book.

“As users’ interests and intents tend to change, the system performs query analysis several times a week”, says Yandex. This amounts to Spectrum analysing about five billion search queries.

Earlier this month we reported on how Yandex was also getting smarter through partnering with VKontakte, which is the largest social network in Russia. Under the arrangement, the public-facing elements of VKontakte user profiles will show up in Yandex searches in realtime, essentially creating a people search engine since results, where publicly available, will link to and/or display a person’s date of birth, place of birth, university or place of work.

A quick heads-up: Stay tuned for more on Yandex and a report from our TechCrunch Moscow event this week.