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April 27, 2005

Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, unveil new personalized search features

By Charlene Li

First, apologies to Ask Jeeves – in a previous post, I had anticipated new announcements to in the personal search space from Ask Jeeves and A9.com. Lo, and behold, my crowded brain forgot that MyJeeves, Ask Jeeves’ “personal search system” offering received an upgrade on April 11th. Here’s a link to a tour of the new features. After reviewing the upgrade, I know why I promptly forgot about it – the upgrades are fairly minor improvements on the overall functionality of MyJeeves. There are nice things such as the ability to add tags, save images, and integration into the Ask Jeeves toolbar. But the service still doesn’t cache pages, meaning that “searching” MyJeeves can be problematic if content changes.

In contrast, Yahoo! took a significant step forward with its upgrade of My Web, which Yahoo! calls a “personal search engine”, by allowing full caching of a Web page. This means you can search the entire contents of that page, not just the link or any notes that you’ve added. It’s like having a personalized copy of the Web at your disposal to search.

The other interesting feature is the ability to automatically save your search results, similar to Google’s My Search History (see my post about the service here). This is a nice back up to have running in the background in case you forget to save a page to your My Web. Note a major difference between Google and Yahoo! – Yahoo! allows users to save Web pages, not just search results. Yahoo! also gives you much greater control to organize and categorize the Web pages, albeit, not

Three other interesting features that are noteworthy: users can easily share pages stored in My Web via email or instant messaging (and eventually, Yahoo! 360). Yahoo! has also made available an API for programmers to create additional services built on My Web data. Lastly, a little feature that I particularly appreciate is the ability to show details within My Web listings that explain how that page ended up in the index – such as imported from bookmarks or the term I used to find that page.

One last little neat trick (that MyJeeves also has) – when you now set up your personalized services, both Yahoo! and Ask Jeeves give you the option to import your bookmarks. Voila! In one fell swoop, you’ve created a searchable version of your favorite sites.

OK, enough of the product overview. A couple of thoughts:

I really like the ability to search cached pages. I’ve been using Onfolio for a few weeks to save Web pages to my hard drive, which I’ve been trying to use as a replacement to paper print outs (much more portable). I’ve been double saving to both Onfolio and Yahoo! My Web for the past few days and I have to say, both are equally cumbersome – it’s enough of a pain to click on numerous windows to save that I started doing it less and less. But that’s just me – others may find it a fair trade-off.

The key differentiator for Yahoo! is 1) the superior searching capabilities; and 2) the large installed base. Watch out Google – Yahoo! has everything My Search History does, PLUS the ability to save any page on the Web, PLUS millions of registered users.

The big payout for Yahoo! is being able to build a database of search behavior faster than Google does. Moreover, Yahoo! is a market leader in behavioral targeting, having offered Yahoo! Fusion Targeting to advertisers for years.

One final note – it’s becoming obvious (and tiresome) that Yahoo! and Google are caught up in a tit for tat PR war. The final blow for me was the pre-briefing with Yahoo! on the My Web upgrades, which I was embargoed from releasing the details, but told it was OK to write about the pending announcement. And yes, I admitted that I felt like I was being played.

“So I'm doing this and feeling a bit of a tool being used by the Yahoo! PR team.”

I debated whether to post anything, but thought that you, my readers, would benefit from that knowledge. But what really put me over the edge is that this Fleishman then pitched the story (see update below) was used as an example of how blogs can be used to respond to rival announcements (big hat tip to Duncan Chapple for his comment). No mas! Chalk this one up to learning – when I started this blog, I vowed to stay away from the news and announcements hourly slog, which is not only tiresome but not very interesting. So apologies to you, my readers, and I vow to continue to offer what I hope you find to be insightful and thought provoking posts.

Update: Kevin Dugan, the author of the piece that discusses the relationship between PR firms and industry analysts, commented on another post and also emailed me that he was never pitched by Fleishman. Apologies to the Fleishman and Yahoo! team on my conclusion jumping. I also spoke with a Yahoo! PR person to discuss what happened, and we both agreed that this was an interesting learning experience for all of us. I think in the end, that Yahoo! would have been better off just waiting to make their announcement on My Web as they had planned to do this week, and not responded directly to Google's launch of My Search History. As I write above, the Yahoo! product is pretty darn good, and in hindsight, they didn't need to do this. FYI, just a vote of confidence to the entire Yahoo! PR team -- they've done an excellent job (as have the teams at AOL, Ask Jeeves, Google, and MSN) at developing a good working relationship. I just see this as one of those growing pains that all relationships go through!


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Joe Cheng

I'm one of the developers at Onfolio. Interesting post!

Do you mind elaborating on how Yahoo!'s search is superior to Onfolio's? The latter is much more powerful than you may realize.

Also, I'd like to mention that you can save a page to Onfolio with just two keystrokes: F9, Alt+S. And note that Onfolio also saves the search terms you used to find an item, not only for Yahoo! but for all the popular search engines.

Dan Housman

I am one of the founders of Viapoint, a company involved in this space. You might find Viapoint's Smart Organizer, a desktop smart organizer to be relevant to this space. What makes Viapoint interesting is that Viapoint partners with Google Desktop Search to provide the full text search capabilities allowing it to access file and item types as they are added as adapters within the Google world.

(http://www.viapoint.com) if you are interested.

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