Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Yahoo Aims To Be Research Powerhouse
By Wade Roush, October 12, 2005

When U.S. Web surfers are searching for information, 80 percent of them turn to one of three sites: Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft's MSN. And because the keyword-specific ads displayed alongside search results command such a premium, these three leading search companies have spent the last two years sparring relentlessly with each other, adding free services -- desktop toolbars, blogs, gigabytes of e-mail storage -- designed to turn casual users into loyal ones.

But when it comes to developing new Web technology, one of these companies has lagged behind the others. Surprisingly, it's not Microsoft, but Yahoo.

At Google, research is woven into the fabric of the company: software engineers are required to spend 20 percent of their time on far-out ideas, a policy that's given rise to a host of spin-off Google sites.

Microsoft, for its part, has funded extensive research in areas such as data mining and information retrieval, including a system that assembles information from the Web and a user's hard drive before he or she has even realized they need it.

But for Yahoo, having a research operation that helps to invent emerging information tools has never been a major priority. Indeed, until two years ago, the company didn't even have its own search engine -- it rented Google's.

But now that's changing -- and fast. In July, Yahoo hired Prabhakar Raghavan, the former chief technology officer at enterprise-search provider Verity, to lead its 40-person research division in the company's Sunnyvale, CA headquarters.

Raghavan, who is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery, has proceeded to put Yahoo Research on the map by wooing top researchers, such as Andrew Tomkins, a text-analytics expert so well-regarded for his work on Web buzz-tracking at IBM's Almaden Research Center that Fortune magazine called him one of IBM's "golden geeks." More hiring announcements are imminent, too, according to Usama Fayyad, Yahoo's senior vice president and chief data officer.


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