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yahoo search directMaybe it really is too early to count Yahoo out when it comes to search.

Today, the company held a press event where it announced a new product called Search Direct, which is supposed to bring searchers the answers they’re looking for as they type. I didn’t go, mainly because I had to meet with the team behind the cool (and well-funded) mobile photo app Color — but also because, well, I’ve been to these events before. Yahoo executives take the stage, talk about how they’re going to turn the company around, and then when it comes to delivering meaningful product or business news … there’s not much. In fact, I can think of multiple events where all the reporters at my table stared at each other, mouthing, “What the heck are we supposed to write about?”

Now, you could argue that that’s a rather insider-y complaint about Yahoo’s PR strategy, rather than a significant criticism of the company. But I think it reflects a larger problem. Since 2009, when Yahoo announced that its search results would actually come from Microsoft, the company has been insisting that it’s still serious about search and that the deal frees Yahoo to focus on improving the search engine rather than the results. In practice, that seems to have amounted to minor tweaks that weren’t really enough to build a search strategy around.

Search Direct, however, looks to be a significant improvement. It’s certainly the biggest change to Yahoo Search that I’ve noticed in a long time. It obviously owes some of its inspiration to Google Instant, the feature that Google unveiled last year that reveals and revises your search results as you type. But, hey, even copying the competition’s cooler features is nothing to sneeze at, especially since Yahoo brings its own approach. The company says Search Direct is about finding answers, not links, which means trying to provide content relevant to your search (say, weather predictions for a weather search, or movie times for a movie search) in a little box above your normal results.

Over at Search Engine Land, Danny Sullivan notes that this “answers-based” approach results in fewer practical differences than Yahoo wants us to believe, and that in many cases, Google Instant delivers superior results. Still, I prefer the Search Direct design — Google Instant’s constantly changing results gives me a headache.

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