Yahoo: I have seen the future of search, and it's … a monkey?

As the corporate battle for control of Yahoo continues, the company’s search team is working busily to make the target of all the backroom shenanigans (namely, Yahoo’s search technology and web portal) more powerful by opening it up to third-party developers.

The company first announced its SearchMonkey platform in March, and launched a private test a few weeks ago. Now it’s opening SearchMonkey to any and all developers who want to use it, and Product Manager Amit Kumar says the first wave of SearchMonkey applications should be available in just a few weeks. To create some extra momentum and buzz around the platform, Yahoo is also launching a competition for SearchMonkey developers.

The basic idea is to use a website’s “structured data” — which is available through microformats, RDF, XML feeds, applied programming interfaces (APIs) and more — to make search results richer and more useful than the basic string of text users normally see.

For now, the applications that can be created with SearchMonkey fall into two categories: enhanced results and infobars. Enhanced results are exactly what you’d expect — an opportunity to provide more detailed and varied search results. For example, the search result for a LinkedIn profile could be presented as not just a bit of relevant text, but a full summary with name, location, specialty and more. Infobars, on the other hand, can present extra information from other sites that are relevant to your search results. A developer could create an application that makes the relevant Internet Movie Database page appear when you mouse over the search results for any movie title (see screenshot below).



Now, there are already plenty of applications that try to add similar features to search results, but Kumar says they’re “reverse engineered” from Yahoo’s (and other companies’) search technology, so whenever Yahoo tweaks its search engine, the applications need to be rewritten so they’re compatible again. Using the SearchMonkey platform should make the process a lot smoother and easier, and as Yahoo works with website owners to make this kind of data available, these apps will become more and more common.

As we’ve said already, opening up its search technology is a smart way for Yahoo to try to regain some of the ground its lost to search juggernaut Google. Without reinventing the wheel, the SearchMonkey platform has a lot of potential for making the search experience better.

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