When Yahoo and Microsoft announced their partnership to replace Yahoo organic search index with Bing’s, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz said that while Yahoo would no longer crawl and index the web, they would own the search experience and continue to innovate there. I was skeptical. There’s only so much innovation a search engine can do without crawling the web directly. But Yahoo is trying to prove me wrong (key word in that sentence: trying; mostly through sensational press releases, but more on that in a minute). One way Yahoo has been focusing on new searcher experiences has been through mobile. Yahoo EVP Hilary Schneider recently said that they were seeing “incredible… extraordinary” growth in mobile, and they are now capitalizing on that with two new iPhone apps.
Yahoo Sketch-a-Search app
Let’s be honest, Yahoo Sketch-a-Search has a hilarious name, although I have to give Yahoo kudos for making us all nostalgic for our childhood days, even if those days were filled with frustration at being able to get those dials to draw anything other than straight lines. Yahoo’s version sounds much less frustrating, as you simply use your finger to draw a shape on a map to search within those location boundaries. Happily, the app keeps the best part of Etch A Sketch — the oh so satisfying shake to clear everything. (Although the sketching a map part isn’t exactly the new innovation the press release would lead you to believe, as Ask launched something similar back in early 2007. But the shaking is new! I mean, other than Etch A Sketch inventing it back in 1959.)
Yahoo Search app
Yahoo’s blog post makes their Search app seem like the epitome of awesome — mobile search like no one has ever seen, but really, it’s mostly like the Google search mobile app. Er, and Yahoo already had an iPhone app, so I’m guessing this is just an improved version? (By the way, Microsoft would probably like you to know that they also just updated their Bing iPhone app).
According to Yahoo’s press release, they are “pioneer[ing]” a “new era in mobile search” as just one more way they have “revolutionized mobile search”, beginning in 2007 when their “consumer experience signified a tipping point in the industry as Yahoo! fundamentally changed the way consumers used search on their mobile phones.” Fortunately, the blog post tones the rhetoric down a bit (“new ways to search with Yahoo iPhone apps”). It is certainly the case that Yahoo has been a leader in mobile search, particularly in distribution, but is Yahoo really “defining the next era of Internet, search, and mobile, by demonstrating what’s possible”? For that it would need to tap into my brain waves and answer my most pressing questions automatically. Although that would also be creepy.