Yahoo! Alpha and federated search | Federated Search BlogFederated Search
27
Apr

I hadn’t heard about Yahoo! Alpha until I read this piece of a blog article titled Google vs Yahoo Search, at “The Tomes of Experience.”

Which I guess leads me into Yahoo’s foray into Federated search called Alpha. Yahoo claim that “Alpha is a new beta product from Yahoo!7 that introduces the concept of Federated Search. With Alpha, you can search across many different information sources all on one place”.. Holy tuna, batman! “Search across many information sources from one place”?….Sounds like a regular search engine to me. *bored* The quality of search results don’t appear to be any different to regular Yahoo, but the UI is very different. Kind of like Live Search (and we all remember how that went)…

I have to agree with the author here. I ran some searches on Alpha and didn’t see any results that led me to being grateful that Yahoo! was playing with federated search. One thing I quickly discovered, though, is that I had to frequently refresh pages at the site. Sometimes I would do a search or click on one of the links off their homepage and I’d just get a blank page. If I refreshed the page one or five times I’d get some content. In fairness to Yahoo!, Alpha is a beta site.

For those of you who don’t know, and I didn’t until I looked it up, Yahoo! Alpha is an experimental product of Yahoo!7, which is Yahoo! for Australia.

So, where’s the federated search in Alpha? Their FAQ page gave a little bit of information:

How can Alpha pull search results from other sites?

Alpha can display any combination of OpenSearch results, RSS or site specific search results on the one page. Alpha does this by utilising the OpenSearch format to read and present search results from any site that chooses to syndicate their results. Much like the way MyYahoo! can read news feeds via RSS, Alpha can read search results via OpenSearch RSS, GeoRSS, standard RSS plus additional sources via the Yahoo! Search API.

Ok. So, Alpha is doing OpenSearch searches. That’s a good thing. If you’re not familiar with OpenSearch you might want to read this article to get some background information. The idea behind OpenSearch is that it’s an emerging standard that websites can implement that combines search capabilities with RSS capabilities. So, a site owner can make it easy for an OpenSearch client, like Yahoo! Alpha, to search and syndicate content from his or her site.

It’s interesting that I hadn’t heard about Yahoo! Alpha when Yahoo! searches reveal that Alpha has been around for a couple of years.

Of course, Yahoo! isn’t the only company who is using OpenSearch as part of a federated search tool. Microsoft’s Windows 7 federated search feature is based on OpenSearch as a piece of one of a zillion articles explains:

Windows 7 along with the desktop search, introduces Federated Search in which the scope of the search goes beyond your PC. You can now search for items in remote repositories from your PC. It is based on OpenSearch and the RSS format. Since it is based on open standards, it becomes very simple to create custom ‘search connectors’ for your own remote repositories. For example, you can search Flickr or Twitter from within explorer.

The question I have about Alpha is how many of their search results are coming from live OpenSearch searches and how many are coming from their index. From a federated search perspective, Alpha would impress me more if it had a ton of sites that it syndicated content from in real time. The brute force way to tell if one of their search results came from a site via OpenSearch is to look at the HTML source from the site and see if they have the telltale signs of an OpenSearch page. So, it’d be a tedious process to tell how much OpenSearch they’re doing. I wonder if there are comprehensive catalogs of OpenSearch-enabled sites. I googled for a bit but could not find any.

I think OpenSearch is a great way for sites to make their content searchable. And, I was delighted to run into this article by DeWitt Clinton: Add OpenSearch to your site in five minutes. The article provides a template for creating what’s known as the description document which tells browsers and other OpenSearch clients how to search your site. The article also gives the great idea of using Google to search your site, which it probably already does. Of course, if you have content in a database you’ll need to provide your own search mechanism.

I think OpenSearch will only get more popular. Not because Yahoo! is experimenting with it but because Microsoft is using it. OpenSearch provides an interesting alternative for websites that have lots of content that want to make it searchable but don’t necessarily want it to be crawled and indexed.

Do you have experience with OpenSearch? Are you using it in interesting ways? Tell us about it.

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5 Responses so far to "Yahoo! Alpha and federated search"

  1. 1 Jonathan Rochkind
    April 27th, 2009 at 7:00 pm  

    Heh, yeah, it’s like a regular search engine but WORSE, for all the reasons we’ve talked about before that broadcast search has some inherent user experience shortcomings compared to an aggregated index.

    But I agree that OpenSearch is good stuff. Fortunately, in addition to some big players that make it’s adoption more likely, it’s actually a very nice standard too. Simple but flexible and backwards-compatibly expandable. I think it’s an excellent model of a good standard, very easy to work with as a software consumer or a software producer for basic common use cases, but still nice and expandable for more sophisticated use cases too. I hope it does catch on — it’s got uses beyond broadcast search, but for times when we do need broadcast search, it’s a fine way to do it.

  2. 2 Paul T. Jackson
    April 28th, 2009 at 8:11 pm  

    Your mention of the Windows 7 with OpenSearch suggests to me that no one is doing anything new. This was being done years ago by a program called. Kenjin back before the turn of the century and in 2000. This was product for the single user computer that would pull up both desktop and web content for a particular search. It was kind of interesting as to what it found, but not altogether good hits, and it was eventually dropped by the company Autonomy that was licensing their larger search programs to major corporations.
    I wonder if Microsoft has just now discovered this “federated search engine”?

  3. 3 Sol
    May 1st, 2009 at 6:31 pm  

    Paul — Ok, I’ll have to educate myself about Kenjin. Thanks.

  4. 4 Sol
    May 1st, 2009 at 6:32 pm  

    Jonathan – The more I play with OpenSearch the more I like it.

  5. 5 Ian
    May 14th, 2009 at 5:41 am  

    We looked at opensearch some years ago.
    Unfortunately it looks like an internal a9 spec that someone thought may make a ‘standard’. It never generated the interest that it deserved…
    For this reason it never progressed. It’s been sitting in the same state for __years__ – untouched and seemingly unloved.
    Medio did some work a while ago to try and add some mobile and commerce extensions. This was a nice idea but also didn’t generate any real traction from what I can tell.

    I was quite excited when I first found it but eventually went a bit cold…I must admit my recollection is fading but I think the spec wasn’t really very consistent and needed quite a bit of polishing. Quite do-able with community support mind…

    Although I may sound a little damning, I do support the idea in principle. A nicely marked up version RDF/OWL would be a good way forward 🙂

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