Yahoo unveils new search engine, but can anyone catch Google?


San Francisco : Yahoo Inc. has unveiled a new internet search technology in a bid to close the gap on search leader Google, but executives at Yahoo admitted that the best they could hope for was to “chip away” at their rival’s lead.

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The new Yahoo Search, previously codenamed Panama, was launched Tuesday and introduces features like ‘universal search’, which automatically includes different content types in search results.

Results pages now include embedded video, photos from Yahoo’s extensive Flickr collection and results that are customised for specific types of searches, such as those for celebrities, musical artists and news.

The service now sports an attractive drop-down box called search assist that appears as users type, offering spelling fixes and search suggestions based on what’s being typed.

Yahoo’s rivals already offer similar functions, but Yahoo’s version is visually more appealing and smarter. It senses by users’ typing speed when they might need help to define search terms, and comes to their aid when needed or stays quiet if no help is required.

The upgrade will also use information from Yahoo’s calendar service,, to highlight local events that are relevant to requests. The service also features information from Yahoo Answers, a popular web service where questions are posted for anyone to answer.

Yahoo hopes that the new interface will help it attract more Internet users and slow down Google’s ever-widening lead in the US search market. In August, Google’s share of the US Internet search market jumped by more than 30 percent year-over-year to 53.6 percent.

Yahoo, by comparison, had a 20 percent share. Microsoft, which also updated its search technology last week, is in third place with about 11 percent.

“Obviously, we have our eye on being the number one in search,” said Vish Makhijani, Yahoo senior vice president and general manager. “We’ll chip away. This was the first step. We’ll take shots, take chances.”

But attracting eyeballs is only one aspect of Yahoo’s new search service. The other main strategy is to improve revenues from the service by making it easier for advertisers to find the ad words that will get people interested in their products. The goal is to increase revenue per search and get a bigger slice of the $7 billion per year advertising market.

The push comes at a crucial time for Yahoo as co-founder Jerry Yang took over from ousted chief executive Terry Semel, who had failed to eat into Google’s growth.

Analysts were generally upbeat about Yahoo’s new service, but were also sceptical whether it could make any significant dent into the web search habits that have made Google so dominant.

“Yahoo is taking search to a different level primarily because they are doing what I call ‘mind reading’: anticipating what you are going to do,” said Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li.

But Scott Kessler, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s said Yahoo would be hard pressed to get Internet searchers to break their Google habit.

“Yahoo is fighting an uphill battle,” he said. “Google has become so inextricably connected with the concept and practice of search, Yahoo has to work a lot harder to get on people’s radar screens.”