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Yahoo Not Playing Games With Search Future

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Yahoo! isn’t lying down in the battle for search supremacy. They’re in it tooth and nail, scrapping with Google and MSN to build a search engine reflective of the $500 million annual engineering budget allocated to procuring the brightest talent from college campuses as well as more high profile search masters like Prabhakar Raghavan. Raghavan’s goals are lofty, stuffed with rhetoric that includes ambitions of Nobel Prize winning search technology.

While the search world drools over the drama associated with the defection of Dr. Kai-Fu Lee from Microsoft to Google, the dog under the poach (Southerners will get that, but MS Word won’t), is a meaner breed. Dr. Lee’s move to redder pastures only underscores the “brain drain” in the search world, as the major engines scramble for the best of the best of college search classes and high profile search superstars.

Take the semi-quiet appointment of Raghavan. Hardly anyone noticed amid the legal squabbles in Washington. But from ZDNet’s interview with Yahoo!’s new head of research, the rather eloquent scholar has big plans for the second most trafficked search engine.

Formerly of IBM’s search and data mining research team, and later of search vendor Verity, Raghavan told ZDNet he plans “to go after the best in world and to get them.” He’ll face steep competition from the likes of Google who, according to one professor, has tapped the top one-third of Seattle’s search class for the last two years.

But it’s not so much high profile Raghavan is looking for. The focus will be on obtaining the less heralded, but top of their craft pure researchers with the goal of creating a search experience far beyond the current “Stone Age” of search.

What’s included in this vision? Getting things done, for one.

“Most people are not interested in search-they want to get things done. The future has to be more friendly to people getting tasks done. You don’t want to spend two weeks of evenings sitting at a keyboard and piecing together a vacation plan. You want a system to go out and find the answers, based on future technology that goes beyond crawling and indexing page.”

Raghavan says within the next five years searchers will begin to see technology structured around semantic ambiguity, an architecture that understands what the searcher meant, not what the searcher typed. And developing such a technology isn’t easy. Though, in the private research sector, leaps toward this experience have already been, well, leapt.

The world he paints is appealing, thinking engines that understand the user, providing “answers, rather than links,” with the proverbial “through a goose” speed.

“It’s a classic problem in statistical machine learning-you might have 200 data points, but how do you zero in on the three that make a difference?”

That’s the very issue the search industry will be racing to address. The one who builds a better personalized mousetrap, and builds it first, will end up on top.

“Content, context and community coming together is a long-standing dream in our business-we are all going after it,” he said.

That “coming together” doesn’t mean more content, but better, more useful content that matches user intent. Raghavan and Yahoo! assume also it means better ways of mining text, photos, podcasts, blogs, or whatever the latest content medium is.

Intent-driven search will be interesting to watch evolve.

Yahoo Not Playing Games With Search Future
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