yah1.jpgYahoo says it’s pushing forward on its open search platform with support for semantic web standards and third-party developers. These are both important steps forward for Yahoo, particularly since open search is seen as one of the company’s best bets for making headway against Google (our coverage).

Semantic web standards like microformats can help search engines identify the relationship between the different pieces of content on a website, says Amit Kumar, Yahoo’s director of search product management. For example, on LinkedIn, microformats allow Yahoo to highlight information like a LinkedIn user’s location, current title and specialties in its search results.

These standards could lead to a much richer search experience, particularly if, as Yahoo hopes, this announcement turns out to be the kick in the pants web sites need to adopt them. Kumar says Yahoo will initially support microformats including hCard, hCalendar, hReview and XFN, as well as RDFa and eRDF markups and the OpenSearch specification.

The company also plans to make its search platform open to all developers, Kumar says, with the public test of development tools coming in the next few weeks. By comparison, Google seems to be taking a more cautious approach to open search. (In an interview with VentureBeat, Google’s Marissa Mayer said Google has not permitted re-ranking results because it is core to Google’s business, although she did not rule out the possibility of that policy changing at some point.)

But for its plan to be successful, Yahoo will also need to provide some assistance to developers, both with automating some of the grunt work of adding microformats to sites, and educating the many who haven’t yet learned how to structure data. Adoption of these standard won’t be instantaneous, which will give other groups a chance to see how Yahoo does and consider whether to add their chips to the pot.

Some companies have already started to build apps to improve the search experience on Google, Yahoo and elsewhere (see our coverage of Surf Canyon, for example), but Yahoo’s support could lead to tremendous growth on the overall front.