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During Yahoo’s press event today, Larry Cornett, the company’s vice president of consumer products for search, gave a quick tour of recent additions and upcoming features in Yahoo search. The most interesting concept of the bunch was a feature called “Sketch-a-Search,” which Yahoo is currently testing.
Too many mobile search experiences are all about “cramming” the standard web experience into the smaller screen, i.e., by typing several keywords into a search box, then retyping words if you didn’t get your search quite right, Cornett said. With Sketch-a-Search, on the other hand, no typing is required, and it’s not based on keywords. Instead, he compared the interface to an Etch-a-Sketch drawing toy.
Specifically, Cornett demonstrated looking at a map of San Francisco. If he wanted to look at restaurants along the waterfront, it could be a pain to look that up in traditional search, unless you wanted to limit that search to a specific neighborhood or street. With Sketch-a-Search, you just draw a line around the relevant area of the map, and Yahoo can return local search results in that area.
“Imagine that paradigm being applied to any search experience,” Cornett said.
I have to admit I have a hard time imagining how Sketch-a-Search applies beyond local search. Drawing a boundary on a map is one thing, but I’m not sure how that makes sense on a traditional web page or an image search. But again, this is just a product that Yahoo is playing with as a labs feature, so if the company pursues this further, we can probably expect to hear more details in the future.
Update: A Yahoo spokesman just clarified that Sketch-a-Search is really meant as a local search tool. When Cornett said “any search experience,” he meant that it goes way beyond finding restaurants. The spokesman also said the sketching might involve more than drawing a search boundary, but also, for example, drawing your route to and from work then finding locations nearby.
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