In May, Google launched its Universal Search, followed just a few weeks later by Ask’s introduction of Ask 3D. Now Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) has a new version hot on the heels of Microsoft’s (www.microsoft.com) relaunch of Live Search. All four updates have some similarities, yet these two latest changes offer some unique search features and reasons to take another look at both Yahoo! and Live.
In the evolution of Web searching, 2007 has become the year of multimedia integration. All four Web search engines now have incorporated images and videos into the results for some searches. The strong popular interest in video-sharing sites has moved some picture and film content into the regular, textual results from the Web.
The changes at Live Search (www.live.com) include a graphic redesign of the site along with underlying database changes, new verticals, integrated pictures and videos, and more rich answers. The front page has been cleaned up, and database options above the search box include Web, Images, Video, News, Maps, MSN, and More. Most of the More choices are still in beta, but Microsoft has said that some of the announced features should roll out over the next month or so. In the past week, the list of database choices above the search box and under the More menu expanded, so expect more changes soon.
For queries on certain popular subjects, Live search is introducing special subject-specific results. "We know what kinds of things consumers are searching for, and we have invested in those key high-interest verticals, including entertainment, shopping, health, and local search," said Satya Nadella, corporate vice president of the Search and Advertising Platform Group at Microsoft. The most recently launched is Live Health, available in beta under More and at https://health.live.com. A search there leads to a variety of refinements such as Personal Health, Conditions, Procedures, and Nutrition. Other sections of the page have Articles (from various vetted sources), Web results, and the ability to save results in a scrapbook.
With these special areas, Microsoft intends to move beyond a single set of links to a customized page on the topic. Product searches for items like digital cameras can include direct information or links to guides, images, specifications, and reviews. According to Microsoft, more than 37 million products will eventually have these specialized vertical product page displays.
Back on the Web search side of Live, Microsoft says that the new Live search has a significantly larger database—an "over fourfold increase" from its previous size. Live is also supposed to offer many more relevant results based on evaluating "more user click-stream data to inform ranking and relevancy processes."
The video search that has emerged from beta has small thumbnails of the videos that will start playing with a simple mouseover. From a Web search, a query with the word "video" or "videos" will often result in a few "top videos" displayed above the other Web results. Add a word such as "images," "photos," or "pics" to a search and several "top images" will display near the top.
Like many of the other search engines, Live is putting an increased emphasis on direct answers to questions. The Microsoft Answers (or Rich Answers) draw their content from a variety of vetted sources, including Microsoft’s own Encarta encyclopedia.
Shortly after Live showed its new site and features, Yahoo! launched its own (http://search.yahoo.com). In the announcement, Yahoo! mentions a study it commissioned that found "that while 99 percent of online adults use a search engine to find information on the Internet, a mere 15 percent of them find what they’re looking for with their first search." Yahoo!’s approach to improving that figure is to add more image and video content to its Web search results, expand its search suggestions, and add more search shortcuts.
According to Vish Makhijani, general manager and senior vice president of Yahoo! Search, "We know that consumers want a complete answer, not a bunch of links, and the changes we’ve made are focused on getting people to the best answer—whether it be a Web link, photo, video, or music clip—in one search." Videos now get included in Web results along with an inline player. Add "photos" to a search and the first numbered result will likely include three Flickr thumbnails below three other image search result thumbnails. For certain music groups, shortcuts above the search results may include inline audio files that can be played directly on the page.
The big news from Yahoo!, and the item that sets it apart from the other search engines, is an expanded vocabulary aid called Search Assist. To see it, just start entering search terms on the main Yahoo! page (but not too fast). The Search Assist bar drops down below the search box with suggested search terms based on what has been typed so far. Other search engines have something similar. Ask also has search suggestions that drop down as you type, as does the experimental Google Suggest. With Search Assist, Yahoo! has taken this help-the-searchers-while-they-type approach further than the others. Choose one of the suggestions, and not only do matching results appear, but Search Assist brings up more related terms under an "Explore Concepts" heading to the right of the search suggestions. With Search Assist, some suggested alternatives are displayed, but little arrows also allow the user to scroll through even more.If only because of the claims of larger underlying databases, faster delivery of results, and better relevancy, searchers should find a visit to Yahoo! and Live Search worthwhile if they had not tried either recently. With the addition of multimedia files, more smart answers, and Yahoo!’s new Search Assist, it seems 2007 will stand as another good year for developments at the search engines.