Yandex, the company behind the leading search engine in Russia with a presence in Turkey, has taken a radically different direction to its search activities by launching a voice social search app called “Wonder” on Apple’s iOS platform for the US market.
Described by the company as “experimental,” the app responds to users’ spoken queries and displays results from that user’s social connections in a horizontal format which Yandex believes may be the best way to display social search for the future.
One key aspect of the app is the historical nature of the data queried. “Wonder” is not looking at what someone is saying now about a restaurant you’re thinking of visiting, but what they have said in the past. This enables much richer information to be displayed to users from a limited data set than would be the case with traditional search engines.
The supported social network platforms include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare and other tools connected through Facebook such as Spotify.
Developed by Palo Alto-based Yandex Labs, the app is limited to the US for now, but a spokesman for the company said, “It’s an experimental app which uses many existing Yandex technologies and tests some that are new. We aim to learn about users preferences, such as the horizontal results display and may then roll it out to other regions.”
A typical search query might be, ” I wonder what my friends are listening to?” or “what sushi restaurants do my friends go to in New York?” A key aspect that the technology tries to achieve is to recognise the many different ways that a particular restaurant or venue, might be described by different friends in different networks — a new form of “duplicate removal” similar to duplication removal in traditional search engines.
In addition to the fact that its development came out of the US, the company says it chose the limited iOS platform in the US because it is a single market speaking predominantly one language, more social data is available, and US users share more on average than those in other parts of the world.
The spokesman noted that, “We may use what we learn on voice search from this experiment in connection with our main Yandex search engine.”
Inevitably, the app will be compared to Facebook’s new Graph Search concept and has many similarities, except the addition of natural language voice search. The app is available to download for free.
Other than “Yandex.com,” which is an English-language search tool from Yandex, the company has never made forays into the US in its own name — but has invested in US search engines such as Blekko. This is the first direct search investment in the US.
Postscript by Matt McGee: TechCrunch is reporting that Facebook has blocked Yandex’s access to its data, and the two companies are discussing next steps.
Postscript #2 by Matt McGee, January 25: Yandex has shared this official statement on the situation:
Wonder app has been blocked by Facebook. We are in touch with Facebook to enquire about the reasons for this and what can be done to solve this problem. As of now any new users trying to sign up to Wonder with their Facebook account receive a notification by Facebook: “An error occurred. Please try again later”. Those users who have already signed up can still ask questions, but the Facebook data will not be updated. Instagram, Foursquare and Twitter data are updated as normal.
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