Beginning in 2005, Web programmers were able to incorporate results from Yahoo’s search engine into their own services, but could do very little with those links: they were limited to 5,000 search queries per day, and they weren’t allowed to change how results were ranked or blend their own site’s content into the rankings. Then Vik Singh, only seven months out of college and five months into his first job, talked the company into giving away not just the search results but much of the data essential to its relevance formula, such as any tags that identify place names or people. His efforts led to the creation of BOSS (for “Build your Own Search Service”), an application programming interface that lets developers take Yahoo search results and manipulate them to provide services tailored to users’ needs, in some cases by considering personal data that a website has collected.
For instance, Singh says, typing jobs into Yahoo gives a user links to job-search websites such as Monster.com. But a social-networking site could use BOSS to design a search that considered a user’s hometown and current job, or even where his or her friends work.
More than 1,000 developers (of websites, e-mail clients, and mobile-phone applications) have begun using BOSS since its launch in July 2008. The Japanese company Spysee, for example, has built a search engine that finds connections between people, such as common interests or mutual friends, using data it gleans from Yahoo. Such new, smaller search services, Singh says, will create more competition for Yahoo’s main rivals, Google and Microsoft, in a market that’s otherwise hard to break into. With new services piggybacking on its platform, Yahoo figures it can glean a bigger share of search traffic. That, in turn, will yield data that will help it improve its core search engine. New sites may also mean new revenue for Yahoo, whether from small fees charged for every query or income shared from search-related advertising. Either way, Yahoo expects to improve its own standing by letting other software developers share its wealth of knowledge. –Neil Savage