Yahoo Tests Livesearch On AllTheWeb; Google Patent Problem, Perhaps?

Yahoo's AllTheWeb service is sporting a new Livesearch feature. It's pretty interesting. As you type into the search box, search results automatically start appearing. And more interesting, it's similar to something Google's already sought to patent.

Let's dive into the Livesearch system first. Say you are looking for information about HD TVs. You type h, and a list of suggested searches appears to the left of the main search results area, including:

  • h
  • hotmail
  • home depot
  • hi5...

In the search results, you start seeing listings for hotmail, second on the list. That's the term AllTheWeb is guessing you might be after. Ah -- but we're not after hotmail! That's OK. As soon as you enter another letter, making hd, you get:

  • hd
  • hdtv
  • hd dvd
  • henry draper star catalogue
  • hdfc bank...

In the search results, hdtv is automatically selected as your search query, giving you results on that topic.

It'll be fun to see if this takes off more if it moves to regular Yahoo. Potentially, it will speed up searching, giving you answers faster than you've even completed typing in your search terms.

Certainly it's nice to see the query refinement given better play than on Yahoo, making it easier for people to understand there are alternatives and related terms to their queries. Query refinement has long felt neglected, as I've covered more in my Robert Scoble Wants What We Had -- Better Query Refinement. So Do I! and More On Query Refinement, The Human Scale Problem & Creating The Search Dialog posts last year.

Yahoo explains a bit more about Livesearch in its blog post, Livesearch on AlltheWeb, plus they give some feedback options there. Meanwhile, a revisit to some things that Livesearch is similar to:

  • SurfWax LookAhead: SurfWax has offered its tool since at least 2003, where it suggests related searches (but not actual results) based on the content in a web site or from a controlled vocabulary. Surfwax's SurfWax News service is an excellent place to see it in action, where suggestions change as you type in the search box. You can also try WikiWax, which gives you suggestions for searching against Wikipedia. Gary Price explained more about both services in this September 2005 SearchDay article: Surfwax Offers Look-Ahead Technology for Web Sites. Gary's also just put LookAhead technology into his DocuTicker site.
     
  • AOL Pinpoint Shopping: Start entering a query and watch how suggestions start to appear below the search box. Pinpoint's been doing this since September 2004. AOL's main search site sort of offers a similar thing with its Smartbox service rolled out last January, but looking today, it doesn't seem to work nearly as well as the Pinpoint service or some of the other services above, giving me mainly company info suggestions, if anything at all.
     
  • Google Suggest: It also doesn't give you answers automatically, but it does suggest related terms as you type. It's not built into regular Google (still -- it launched at the end of 2004!), but it was added to the Google Toolbar last September and to Google News earlier this month.
     
  • Snap.com: You can't see it now, since Snap's currently down with a "come back and see the new Snap on May 15th" message. But it did offer a dynamic suggestion tool last April that probably will return.
     
  • Ask Zoom: It's not a dynamic suggestion tool, in that you won't see things appear as you type. But it probably is the most sophisticated or substantial query refinement feature any major search engine offers. Enter a query, then on the results, you can use the Narrow Your Search or Expand Your Search sections to access related queries. Introduced under the Zoom name in May 2005.
     
  • Become.com: Start entering a query, and like Google Suggest, it suggests searches right below the search box. Debuted in June 2005.
     
  • Yahoo Instant Search: Like Livesearch, enter a query and see a result appear -- but only one. Debuted in September 2005.
     
  • Answers.com: Same as Become.com -- entering a query and get suggested searches below the search box. Debuted in December 2005.

Just to stress, none of the services above goes the extra step of actually showing results automatically, in addition to suggested search terms, as Livesearch does. I do feel like I've seen someone do this combo move before, but I can't think of any offhand or after doing some searching. Those closest thing is how Google will prefetch the first result in a listed for a query for those using Firefox, as a means of speeding up access to pages. But that's a different concept altogether.

Closer to the mark, Bill Slawski's very detailed Can Google Read Your Mind? Processing Predictive Queries article talks about a Google patent application on a system that seems very close to what Yahoo's Livesearch is doing. Bill might pop in here to postscript some thoughts on how this applies to what Yahoo's doing.

Certainly Livesearch demonstrates one thing -- how quickly search engines can generate results, or more correctly, how many results they already have cached and ready to serve up without having to "hit disk" to actually do a search.

In other words, when so many people are constantly searching for things like "hdtv," search engines don't have to always go back and search through billions of pages for the results. They can simply pull up the same results they already served recently from fast memory, a long-standing practice for being speedy.

It's also nice to see AllTheWeb finally used for something again, I suppose. Back when Overture bought it, it was positioned as sort of a alpha testing platform with AltaVista a more consumer friendly beta site. Then Yahoo bought Overture, pretty much throwing both AllTheWeb and AltaVista into abandonment.

Postscript

I do see a number of similarities between Live Search and Google Suggest, but there are differences, too. I'm excited to see AllTheWeb being used in this manner.

I did look back at some of the Yahoo! patents and patent applications to see if I could find something similar to what Yahoo! is doing in this Livesearch. I did come up with something close in a patent application that is part of a larger set of refinements to a search user interface in Universal search interface systems and methods. There, we're told that:

The present invention provides highly sophisticated query completion features. As a user types, related words and units are shown (could appear in a drop-down box). These could be based on related searches but personalized to an individual user. For example, when user types in "sf", a drop-box showing weather, hotels, restaurants, etc. may be shown based, in part, on what this user has searched for in the past about "sf".

This patent application was filed April 5, 2004 and published December 9, 2004, earlier than Google's Anticipated query generation and processing in a search engine. But it covers a wider range of enhancements to a search interface. It will be interesting if some of the other concepts discussed in the Yahoo! patent application make their way into livesearch. -- Bill Slawski

Postscript 2 From Danny: I did ask Yahoo about the patent issue, but they said they couldn't comment on legal issues.

Want to comment or discuss? Visit our Search Engine Watch Forums thread, Yahoo Powered Livesearch on AlltheWeb.