Yahoo Offers New Y!Q Contextual Search Tool

Yahoo has rolled out a nifty new tool that lets you use content you’re viewing as the basis of a search query, providing results that are difficult to get otherwise without using advanced search commands.

The new tool, called simply Y!Q, lets you use all or part of a web page you’re viewing as the source of a search query. Simply highlight relevant portions of text on the page and run a “related search,” and Y!Q analyzes the page, extracts the most relevant concepts and uses those as inputs.

The impetus for Y!Q came from Yahoo Search president Jeff Weiner, who was searching for information about a music group, and wondered why all relevant information (album titles, links to buy CDs, concert schedules, and so on) wasn’t more easily accessible without additional searching. Y!Q, at least in theory, makes it much easier to find additional relevant information without a lot of extra effort.

Search results look just like normal Yahoo search results, with one important difference. At the top of the result list the search terms and phrases extracted by Y!Q are displayed in what Yahoo calls a “context selection box,” with a check box next to each. Unchecking the box for a search term removes it from the query, and results are “automagically” updated to reflect only the influence of the checked terms.

It’s hard to describe just what Y!Q does without actually trying it out. Imagine combining suggested search terms with result clustering, but all assembled on the fly based on an analysis of a web page rather than from search terms you type into a query box. It’s neat, and in some cases, it’s a very powerful tool for easily constructing sophisticated queries.

Y!Q is accessible in several different ways.

Internet Explorer users can download the Y!Q DemoBar, which installs alongside any other toolbars you may have installed. To use the DemoBar, navigate to any web page, highlight text on the page, and click the “related search” button. Alternately, you can also right click and select the “Related web pages” menu option (Note to Yahoo: Consider adding “Y!Q” to this to make it stand out from other right-click menu options). You can also add additional search terms in the search box to further tighten the parameters of the query.

If you find a search result that you like, you can add it to your query by clicking the “more like this” link next to the result URL. Y!Q then combines your original search context with the information associated with the selected search result and then add them to the context selection box. In some cases no new items will be identified and you won’t see a change in the context box.

If you’re a Firefox user, Yahoo offers a Y!Q plugin for the search bar. This is less useful than the IE DemoBar, because you have to start by initiating a search rather than simply using parts of a web page as an input.

However, you can take this a step further and install a Firefox extension called ConQuery that enables the highlighting text to search feature of the plugin. It’s an extra step, but if you’re a Firefox user you’ll probably want to do this.

Yahoo has also enabled Y!Q on a special test implementation of Yahoo News. And if you’ve got a web site, you can add Y!Q to your web pages with a few free snippets of code.

Y!Q is an interesting tool with a few rough edges, but that’s OK. It’s part of Yahoo Next, the company’s playground for showcasing new technology which is similar to Google Labs. According to Yahoo product manager Ken Norton, Yahoo deliberately decided to release Y!Q in less than polished form so that it could get feedback from users to help improve the tool.

So give Y!Q a try, and let Yahoo know what you think of it using the “give feedback” option on the DemoBar menu. No worries if you don’t like it—One of the options on the DemoBar for IE lets you uninstall the program, and as with all Firefox plugins you can remove Y!Q using the download manager.

Want to discuss or comment on this story? Join the Yahoo Testing Contextual Search Tool discussion in the Search Engine Watch forums.

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