BOSS Ain't Bad

Yahoo! just announced that they are opening up their search engine for people to re-rank and augment search results to create custom search engines.  I saw an early version of this feature (named Yahoo! BOSS), and have been anticipating the release.  Unsuprisingly, I think that some of the popular blogs are wrong about BOSS.

Contrary to what the popular blogs are saying, I don't think this move is as radical or revolutionary as Search Monkey.  It's definitely cool, but Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft have all had search APIs for a long time.  The news here is not about a search API, but about the terms of use.  The terms of use for BOSS are admittedly more generous than Google's, but not radically so.  I previously explained why I think Search Monkey (a product which the popular blogs largely dismissed) is truly innovative.  BOSS is a good addition, but the really creative parts are still just vapor.

The most perplexing coverage is both CNET and ZDNet somehow confusing BOSS with open source.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Not only do you not get the source code to Yahoo!'s search algorithm, you are forbidden from trying to reverse-engineer it.  It is true that Yahoo! contributes various technology to the open-source community, and a Yahoo! engineer recently won the TeraSort benchmark using the open-source platform upon which Yahoo! search runs.  But the actual ranking and indexing algorithms are Yahoo! search's crown jewels, and they would be crazy to give those away.  Perhaps people are just confused because "BOSS" ends in "OSS"?

Finally, a common theme in the blogs is that this is a "Hail Mary" play of desperation brought about in response to the recent drama with Microsoft.  But I'm not convinced.  BOSS is a lot less crazy than Search Monkey, and is really just an increment on what Google are already doing.  The terms of use may be dangerously liberal, but they have plenty of room to learn and change.  And it's not the kind of feature that someone can crank out in a few days. They have been working on this for awhile.

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