Yahoo’s BOSS and Web 3.0

July 16, 2008

A lot was written a couple of weeks ago about Yahoo’s release of Build your Own Search Service (BOSS), by blogs like Boomtown, Techcrunch, GigaOm and others.  Most bloggers viewed it as a smart move by Yahoo to attempt to compete with Google.  Lower barriers to entry and make it much easier to compete with Google.  Require that BOSS users use Yahoo! ads on the search result pages.  There is only upside in this for Yahoo!. I think that this captures Yahoo!’s opportunity fairly accurately.

The question remains, though: does BOSS present a substantial opportunity for start-ups or any company that might try to leverage BOSS technology. Andrew Chen dismisses this as a nice mash-up opportunity:

The problem is, how will the companies that implement this cool technology end up with any traffic? Seems like this program is a recipe for a bunch of neat PR-generating techie projects without real traction, which is arguably not what Yahoo needs right now.

I think that he nails the key issue–traffic–but overlooks the companies that can make Yahoo!’s technology a true success, high-traffic, vertically-targeted sites. I think that most people have overlooked the implications of this release to a number of companies, specifically as it relates to Sramana Mitra’s concept of Web 3.0:

3C = Content, Commerce, Community | 4th C = Context | P = Personalization | VS = Vertical Search

I’d like to focus on the final component of her definition of Web 3.0, vertical search.  The flexibility afforded by Yahoo! BOSS technology can provide the foundation for vertical search in this environment.  Mitra goes into a number of sites on her blog that are strong candidates for owning a particular vertical.  Expedia, for example, is a good candidate to own the travel vertical.  Using BOSS technology, Expedia could, in theory, provide a very clean solution for the “Paris Hilton” problem that Jason Calacanis uses in defense of Mahalo.  If you are searching for “Paris Hilton” on Expedia, it is pretty safe to say that you are not looking out for the latest gossip on Paris Hilton or whether or not there will be another season of “The Simple Life”.  Similarly, sites focused on specific demographics (e.g. women), geographies (i.e. local search) or psychographics (e.g. environmentalists) should value search results differently.

I fully realize that this idea is not revolutionary.  Companies like Eurekster have tried this in the past.  However, the power of Yahoo’s search platform, coupled with the movement of companies towards full ownership of their userbase align the incentives of Yahoo! and a number of potential partners.

What do you think?  Will companies adopt BOSS?


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