If there was a theme to be drawn from Yahoo’s first quarter earnings call on Tuesday, it was definitely “search.”
Its search volume reached a five-year high, thanks to its recent deal with Mozilla. And even more recently, CEO Marissa Mayer renegotiated the terms of its 10-year search partnership with Microsoft, which gives Yahoo much more flexibility to sell its own search ads.
But Mayer also sees a big opportunity beyond traditional search. She thinks Yahoo can take on mobile search/personal assistant products such as Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now.
Speaking on Yahoo’s first quarter earnings call, Mayer said:
“Those products are really heavily differentiated both from each other as well as from the historic legacy products, and so that’s really where we see an opportunity to play in something that’s mobile. And as it moves to, for example, the watch, and on to television screens and video we think that there’s a really interesting place to play there, to help people make better sense of the content they already have access to, content in their mail, using more context to actually provide higher quality results.”
Mayer gave the example of searching for “JFK” en route to the airport, and a mobile search product producing her airline boarding past and her aeroplane’s gate number, rather than simply producing the “John F. Kennedy” Wikipedia page.
That’s a different challenge to a search algorithm crawling “a trillion or more URLs and perfectly ordering millions of results,” instead the technology would need to pull in context, people’s personal information, and it would need to make search more action oriented.
Yahoo has already taken a step on this journey, launching the “Aviate” Android home screen app last year. But it’s still early days for that app, and it is nowhere near as well-known a brand as Cortana, Siri, and Google Now.
“And that’s really where we’re excited to invest and that’s why we’ve worked on things like [Yahoo’s mobile homescreen app] Aviate, like [Google’s] Search My World and we’ve been making investments there and we’d like to do more with that and that’s what I’m referring to, the classic web search has a different cost profile than that future oriented mobile search that’s more personal.”
But just like with classic search, Yahoo faces an uphill struggle if it believes it can build an app to take on the might of Google, and products like Siri and Cortana, which have already been in the market for some time.
As Business Insider’s Matt Rosoff pointed out on Tuesday, a number of companies — including Microsoft, DuckDuckGo, Blekko, and Wolfram Alpha — have tried to take on Google in search, and “nobody has come close to dethroning the king.”
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