Yahoo is taking the next step in its "open" strategy with the launch today of BOSS: Build your Own Search Service. The BOSS program will allow third parties to build their own search engine using Yahoo's index and ranking methodologies as a base.
Building a competitive search engine would require upwards of $300 million in capital investments, according to Prabhakar Raghavan, chief strategist for Yahoo Search. Besides the hardware involved, there is a limited pool of talent available that can create the query handling, ranking, indexing and crawling infrastructure. Add to that the need for massive amounts of data to achieve relevance, and it becomes nearly impossible for smaller players to compete.
Yahoo is changing all of that with BOSS, Raghavan said.
"This is a bold direction for any search principal to take," he said. "We're expecting this to disrupt the market, and that includes ourselves."
By disrupting the search engine market, Yahoo hopes to bring more choice to consumers, while also taking away some of Google's share. Where Search Monkey opened up Yahoo's SERPs, BOSS opens up Yahoo's infrastructure and technology, and extends it outside of Yahoo.
Using the BOSS APIs, partners will be able to take Yahoo's search results and apply their own ranking criteria, creating their own customized search engine. The BOSS API is based on Yahoo's full index of Web search, news and image search results, as well as spell correction, Raghavan said.
There are three levels to the BOSS program. The first is a self-service API, which will be available to partners who want to build their own search engine using Yahoo results as a base. Examples could include social, vertical, or visual search engines. The second is an API program for academics, dubbed BOSS University. Yahoo is partnering with the computer science departments of several top universities to allow them to use the BOSS program in their research.
Yahoo will also offer partners the BOSS Mashup Framework, a software library that provides tools for data joins and other tasks. It will also offer some ready-made SERP templates, which partners will be able to customize for themselves. Since Yahoo is not in control of the way partners rank results, it has made it clear that these BOSS results are not allowed to be attributed to Yahoo.
The third tier is BOSS Custom, a program where Yahoo will work with a very limited set of partners to customize their integration of Yahoo's results into their own search engines. These partners will generally fit into two main categories, Raghavan said. The first includes companies with their own ranking and/or presentation methodologies, such as semantic search engine Hakia. Hakia is using Yahoo's results, to which it applies its own "secret sauce," he said. Hakia is not replacing its own indexing process completely, but rather using BOSS to accelerate the process.
The other category of partner includes companies with proprietary data, such as user profiles or behavior, that can be used to affect search results. One such company is Me.dium, a browser toolbar that lets users connect with each other and find related sites recommended based on other users' surfing habits. Me.dium will use Yahoo's BOSS data to create a social search engine that will rank results based on what its users say is important.
At launch, all reordering of search results must be done by the partner. Over time, Yahoo expects to begin offering "knobs" that will allow partners to dial up or down certain criteria in the results, such as favoring recent results, or results from blogs, Raghavan said.
Eventually, Yahoo expects to monetize the program by requiring partners to show Yahoo ads alongside their results, in which partners will share the revenue generated. Yahoo is holding off on doing so at launch to allow time to monitor the quality of traffic coming in from BOSS partners, to ensure that advertisers would not be hurt by having their ads displayed in that manner, Raghavan said.