Yahoo announced today that it will soon be making money from Search BOSS (Build your Own Search Service), which lets developers access Yahoo search results in their web applications. That money won’t come through Yahoo’s traditional method of advertising or charging a flat fee for a premium service, but rather through a metered “pay for what you use” model.

A Yahoo spokesperson compared the business model to Amazon Web Services, which is also pay-as-you-go. But Yahoo is charging for search results, not storage space or computing power, so there’s not an obvious precedent, inside or outside the company. Still, although Yahoo may have to adjust the model depending on customer response, the general approach makes sense, especially given the advertising environment.

There will still be a free version that allows up to 10,000 queries per day. After that, a tiered model kicks in that charges based on both the number and type of queries. (That free threshold is pretty high; for example, tech blog network TechCrunch uses BOSS to power its search results and only gets a few thousand queries per day.) And once you start paying, Yahoo also offers service-level agreements guaranteeing certain levels of performance.

The BOSS pricing system will take effect in a few months. I wonder if other companies, especially those that have relied on advertising, can follow Yahoo’s example here. I’m thinking particularly of The New York Times, which allows access to its online article archive and more via application programming interfaces (APIs); charging for API usage sounds like a more promising and realistic way to make money from content than a lame micropayment scheme.

Yahoo is also announcing that it’s making BOSS more powerful. BOSS developers are no longer limited to the standard vanilla Yahoo search results. They can also access the structured data (for example, the specific fields in someone’s LinkedIn account) provided to SearchMonkey, Yahoo’s platform for improved search results.

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