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December 10, 2008

Yahoo BOSS – An Open Strategy to Search Dominance?

A Search Engine Land post yesterday (Dec. 8/08) by Barry Schwartz entitled “Yahoo BOSS Now Serving 100 Queries Per Second” cited that the BOSS initiative was serving 10 million search queries per day, a figure that was close to rivaling’s search volume.

I’m not sure if BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) was Jerry Yang’s idea, but if it was, it could prove to be Yahoo’s road back to competing with Google. BOSS opens up the Yahoo index to developers and companies, allowing:

– Re-ranking and blending of search results
– Total flexibility on presentation
– Mashup of BOSS search results with other public data sources
– Web, news and image search
– Unlimited queries

Someone in the Yahoo hierarchy grasped the fact that there were hundreds, if not thousands of companies, ready to put their own spin on search through mashups and verticalization. The major drawback to innovation in this area has been resources. The Yahoo Blog summarizes the problem nicely:

“As anyone who follows the search industry knows, the barriers to successfully building a high quality, web-scale search engine are incredibly high. Doing so requires hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in engineering, sciences and core infrastructure — from crawling and indexing technology to relevancy and machine learning algorithms, to stuff as mundane as data centers, servers and power. Because competing successfully in web search requires an investment of this scale, new players have effectively been prohibited from delivering credible alternatives to Yahoo! and Google. We believe the BOSS platform will begin to change that.”

The future for BOSS looks bright but the real question is how easy will Yahoo make it for smaller cos. to utilize their program. Right now, not so easy. The BOSS API is available to anyone, but the anyone needs to be knowlegeable in search with better than average developer and programming skills. And, BOSS Custom is an invite-only program.

The search stats cited by Schwartz and in Yahoo’s own Blog aren’t bad for a 5 month old program that doesn’t seem to have Yahoo’s full attention. Making BOSS easy to implement for Joe Average site owner/webmaster could put BOSS in the search industry driver’s seat in the next 12 – 24 months. BOSS has tremendous potential for revolutionizing and democratizing search, but Yahoo needs to put more than a token effort into promoting the program. There is a certain feel to really good ideas and BOSS has that feel.