Yahoo Looks to Mobile to Increase Its Share of Searches

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San Diego—Yahoo! might be upping its stakes in the mobile search arena as a way to build market share, a company official 

hinted at the Voice Search 2009 conference here March 2–4.

The key to that, according to Marc Davis, the company’s chief scientist and vice president of early stage development, could very well be its oneSearch with Voice, a mobile search offering. Originally launched in 2007, oneSearch picked up voice search capabilities in 2008 when Yahoo! incorporated Vlingo’s speech services.

This push to mobile is crucial for Yahoo!. In a U.S. market where aggregate searches increased by 20 percent—and 90 percent of those increases were on Google’s engines—Yahoo! must carve out new territory. Davis was quick to point out that those numbers included Web search results, which, for now, make up a preponderance of total searches.

He suggested the statistics will only be temporarily relevant with the growth of mobile. While never stated explicitly, such comments suggest that Yahoo! might move away from competing directly with Google in traditional Web searches and is looking for new ways to claw its way to market prominence. This might be possible through mobile development.

Alistair Hill, an analyst at ComScore, found that from 2007 to 2008 10 million people in the United States used voice search more than once a week. With the number of smartphone users increasing, the market seems primed for the ascension of a real voice search contender.

Yahoo!’s voice-enabled offering, Davis contended, can capitalize on that, not by merely offering a mobile version of the company’s Web search, but by providing a service that exploits mobile’s inherent properties to contextualize information.

Using data related to location, time, etc., Yahoo! can target its results to the circumstances under which a user is making his search and provide better results. If a user enters a search for a movie on his phone, for instance, rather than taking him to the movie’s Web site, the engine would provide local show times as the first hit, understanding that this is what most users are looking for on mobile devices.

“Mobile search is not about shrinking the Internet onto a small screen,” Davis said. “This is a different model than Web search. Mobile search is about [getting] me to the thing I want quickly.” 

Davis explained that mobile Web users do not want to parse through a large number of search results. The mobile context isn’t about doing research in the same way as on a desktop or notebook computer. Thus, an algorithm that can figure out what users are asking for and deliver it with a minimum of other results is key to mobile search. 

According to Davis, data drawn from mobile devices could be used to determine other contextual information about users to target results and increase speed.

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