Chris Brogan shared that Yahoo is considering a new approach to serving up search results. He describes it as The Sound of Content Ripping Free From Its Page. I’m not sure it will be as dramatic as all that for a couple reasons.

What’s at the heart of Chris’ concern is this short post over at Business Week about what they labeled Yahoo’s Linkless Search. Here’s the part Chris finds concerning

Yahoo’s goal is to build a vast universe of related information, so that we get the info we’re looking for, without having to click on links. Search engines are already moving toward this. More and more, the information pops up on the result pages. But what Raghavan is describing sounds very much like an effort to push relevant Web pages down, or even out of the equation. “We’re not giving you pages, we’re giving you information synthesized from other pages.”

I’ve emphasized the parts that I think probably give Chris pause.

Search Without Links

At first brush the concept sounds a little hair brained to me.

From a publisher perspective it sounds goofy because with this approach to search Yahoo is choosing what parts of my content their user really “needs” to see rather than showing them my site and letting them choose the relevant content in context with the entire page.

From a user stand point I generally prefer to have the option to click through to the raw data. The idea of a synopsis makes sense. But I’d still want to see a link where I can click through to the source material. However I wonder if the average internet user feels the same way.

From Yahoo’s perspective it might make sense. IF they are looking at search as a way to corral people onto their site rather than as a gateway to other sites. If Yahoo’s intent is to build cull-de-sacs where “all roads lead to Yahoo” then this is probably one way to accomplish that goal.

Solving a Non-existent Problem

Here’s the thing. It seems to me that Yahoo is attempting to solve a “problem” that doesn’t exist. Here is an example of the “problem” as Yahoo sees it:

In the current mode, when we’re looking for, say, a restaurant in Hoboken, we query, read a web page, query again for reviews, and then again for directions.

Sounds like a huge burden, right? Yahoo claims that if someone is looking to check out a restaurant then they have to do 3 separate searches to find the information they need to make an informed decision. Why not simplify that to 1 search?

The thing is you already can get all that info from one search. Let me demonstrate.

Take one of my favorite local restaurants, the New South Cafe right here in Savannah. When I enter in “New South Cafe, Savannah, GA” into Google I get links to the following info on the first page:

  • Restaurant Website
  • Directions
  • Several Reviews
  • Some Community Involvement Info about the Restaurant

And that’s with one search, not three. Looks like Google’s already accomplishing what Yahoo is “researching” and is still ushering people to the content creators’ web sites. Everybody wins.

And here’s something interesting. Search for the same thing in Yahoo, “New South Cafe, Savannah, GA” and you get similar info. I see the restaurant’s web site, directions, and reviews all on the front page.

Yahoo’s Faulty Info

The top Yahoo results point to pages of info that are still on Yahoo web sites, though. Interestingly one of the top results gives a bogus address for the restaurant. Notice the phone numbers for the two entries are the same.

But folks following their directions to that location wouldn’t find the restaurant because it isn’t there. You’d have to click through to the restaurant’s main web site anyway to find out which location is the correct one. Or I you could just go over to Google and double check your search I suppose. They seem to have the location right somehow. Of course they aren’t pushing users to another Google page.

If the current Yahoo web sites can’t contain a simple piece of info like the location of a restaurant that’s been the same for at least the 4 years I’ve been in town, how do they expect to amass relevant data on their sites for the millions of searches that internet users conduct every day?

Bottom Line

I don’t think folks should get unduly worried about Yahoo! turning the search engine world on its ear with this new approach to search. It seems more likely to me that Yahoo will be collating masses numbers of pages with dubious content value this way.

If this is really what they are counting on to break the strangle-hold Google has on the search market and fend off a hostile take over from Microsoft then they are probably in worse shape than most folks give them credit for.


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