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December 10, 2004

Yahoo! announces its desktop search plans, with others right behind

By Charlene Li

I had a briefing with Jeff Weiner, head of Yahoo!’s search efforts, on Wednesday where I previewed their desktop search offering. Yahoo decided to licensed the technology from X1 Technologies rather than build its own desktop search.

At first I was surprised – why couldn’t they build one on their own? Jeff’s reply – it was a decision to buy versus build, and in this case, they bought partnered. Recall that this isn’t the first them that Yahoo’s done this – up until this year, they licensed Web search from players like Inktomi and Google. So Yahoo! swallowed its pride and went with the best partner they could find. Smart move -- they'll need all the power they can get as new entrants -- especially MSN -- moves into the market.

So Yahoo!’s placed its bet on the back of one the best existing desktop search players in the market, with the biggest difference being that Yahoo! will offer it for free to its users while X1 concentrates on selling the product to enterprises.

Out of the gate, the Yahoo/X1 pairing is stronger than Google’s desktop search (see my review of Google’s offering here), in that it can search many more file types (namely, PDFs and email attachments), can sort results around file attributes like file name (Google sorts only by data and relevance), and has cool features like find-as-you-type and a super-fast preview pane. Yahoo positioned desktop search as “recovery” of files that you know already exist, versus the process of “discovery” that goes with Web search, where you think a file might exist.

While Yahoo/X1 wins on sheer power, Google’s desktop search scores points on integration. Based in a browser, desktop search results pop-up whenever someone does a Web search (this can be turned off). Yahoo’s desktop search, which is set to debut sometime in January, will have minimal integration in the beginning – it will simply have a search box which links from the client software to Yahoo!’s web search engine.

Over time, Yahoo! expects to have more integration, for example, to go beyond searching the PC desktop to also view the “cloud” of information that resides on the Internet – in this case, specifically on Yahoo!. This could include email from Yahoo! Mail, contacts in Yahoo! Address Book, and photos stored online. X1’s product is already configured to search through enterprise networks – it would simply be modified to treat Yahoo! as an extension of the desktop.

Why is this happening? I recently posted how all of this innovation is geared toward cementing the loyalty of Web search users – the place where these companies make the bulk of their money. But desktop search goes even further by extending search loyalty into the “cloud” of information resides on portals like Yahoo!, MSN, and AOL.

You can expect a flurry of announcements as other companies jump into the fray – in fact, I suspect that Yahoo! took the unusual step of announcing -- not launching -- a planned January beta because it wants to be seen as having a strategy in this area. AskJeeves is expected to unveil its desktop search next week, while MSN is supposedly waiting in the wing with its highly anticipated offering. And don’t forget the gaggle of smaller players in the space – Blinkx recently launched 2.0 of its desktop search while Copernic and HotBot still chug along.

One little sidenote: Yahoo! acquired Stata Labs earlier this year, which made) an excellent email and desktop search product called Bloomba. When I asked Jeff what their plans were for the Bloomba technology, all I got was a wry smile. For some insight, here’s a post from Jeremy Zawodny on a lunch he had with Stata Labs founder Raymie Stata. My hunch – Yahoo! will use Bloomba as a foundation for a rich email interface (perhaps even client?) that will incorporate email and RSS feeds, a la Newsgator.


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Jim Hopper

First of all the internet has become stagnant and is in dire need of something new. All the internet providers and search engines are doing the same things. It has become so big that it is hard for any one particular provider to get an edge on the rest. My plan would do that. I am talking about something that everyone who uses the internet would be very excited about. Something that would attract customers worldwide and not only bring more customers to your internet provider, search engine and home page, but with this new service subscribers would leave the other providers and switch to yours. There is absolutely no doubt about this.

Once again, the internet needs something new and exciting! Thank you very much for your time!

Respectively submitted,

Jim Hopper

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