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Search Engine Wars: Yahoo, Twitter Tweaking Their Code to Rival Google

Google may be the market leader, and innovating frantically, but the search engine wars rumble on all the same: Yahoo and Twitter have just tweaked their own search offerings to improve things, and some of it’s pretty clever. Yahoo gets compartmentalized, not Instant

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Google may be the market leader, and innovating frantically, but the search engine wars rumble on all the same: Yahoo and Twitter have just tweaked their own search offerings to improve things, and some of it’s pretty clever.

Yahoo gets compartmentalized, not Instant

The fixes Yahoo is trying seem to be directed at improving the user experience and making it easier to see ongoing results that are related to your main query. It’s almost a response to Google’s new “Instant” powers, promising a degree of immediacy since the engine spits up related stuff fast–but it’s not quite in Instant’s league.

Basically, when you search for something, the Yahoo text box expands outwards to encompass many more suggestions, compartmentalized into tabs. If you search for a musician, say, Justin Bieber (no reason, why?) then the main box could include an overview with a bio, link to official site, photos and so on. Other tabs contain event links, music links, video and Twitter–this last one is split into official and unofficial tweets.

News searches are tabbed into relevant news stories, imagery, movies, Twitter and so on. Other search queries may generate slideshows, and some tabs may actually be on sale to advertisers in the future.

It’s Yahoo’s attempt to make search much more “interactive” and it’s likely to find some fans among Yahoo users–the offering of additional, related search material in an easily-accesssible way alongside your core query is going to be convenient, and may lead you to interesting or even brand new places on the Web. The main beef would seem to be relevance: Google’s sewn up the relevance of affiliated search queries with Instant, and Yahoo’s responses seem more formulaic. 

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Twitter’s search gets more horsepower

Twitter just surpassed one billion search queries a day, and its previous search infrastructure was evidently not going to be particularly future-proof. Hence it’s renovated the engine by adding in capacity–apparently enough to cope with 50 times as much traffic throughput as it currently manages. 

The moves may be highly technical, with a move from a relational search database based on technology from Summarize (which Twitter acquired) to an inverted index based on Lucene–a Java-based search engine system–but the effects are significant. Twitter’s blog posting tries to answer the question “Will users notice?” with a definite yes: “The first difference you might notice is the bigger index, which is now twice as long–without making searches any slower. And, maybe most importantly, the new system is extremely versatile and extensible.” There’s even the promise of “cool new features” that’ll arrive “faster and better.”

What can we learn from this? Firstly, though Twitter is happy to be so tightly integrated into Google’s service it certainly plans to fiercely maintain its independence, particularly when it comes to search powers inside the archive of billions of tweets. We can see the move as further evidence Twitter is consolidating its core powers, and refocussing attention on its website versus the hundreds of third-party Twitter accessing apps that user’s prefer.

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.

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