Yahoo SearchMonkey: Optimizing Search for Mobile?

This morning, Yahoo announced a new search platform, called “SearchMonkey,” which allows developers to change Yahoo’s plain-vanilla search results into attractive customized results that can display information differently (or even different information) than what appears by default in Yahoo search hit lists. This new capability means different things to different people:

  • For users: One way SearchMonkey would do this is by using data collected by Yahoo, attached to your Yahoo UserID, to predict what results you’d prefer. For instance, suppose I hate Amazon. I never go to Amazon to buy anything. Yahoo has gathered this from my search history. So it deliberately de-privileges Amazon results for any search I do, which is one thing I don’t understand. Is it really that much of a hardship for people to look at the URLs in any given search result and skip the ones that don’t interest them? I actually like knowing what URLs contain info about my search–even if I have no intention of clicking on them.
  • For web publishers/businesses: SearchMonkey will also allow web publishers and businesses to customize their site’s search results. So, suppose you are searching “Pearl Art Supplies San Francisco.” SearchMonkey allows the Pearl people to customize their results so the search result returns the address, phone number, and a picture of the front of the store.

As developers, you’ll be able to customize search results in two different ways: you can customize the regular search result format (“Enhanced Results”), or you can create what Yahoo is calling Infobars, which expand below the primary search result and contain metadata about the result.  

For the desktop, this seems to me like customization for customization’s sake. How lazy and spoiled do we want to be?

The only way I can see this being anything but superfluously useful is when it comes to mobile device users with limited screen space and concerns about network time. Taking the previous example of searching for Pearl Art Supplies: the new customized results with the address, phone #, and storefront pic are not that much more useful to me at my desktop than standard search results. Maybe saves me a couple of clicks. But if I’m wandering around San Francisco’s Market Street trying to find the store? Those customized results are extremely helpful. My results fit on my device’s screen, they’re exactly what I need, and I’m not using valuable network time clicking on link after link to find the info I need.  

Perhaps what this really landmarks is the first major step towards tailoring search permanently towards mobile devices.

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