Yahoo’s Secret Sauce is Community Intelligence

By Exclusive Concepts Blog Team

If eBay is an auction site and Amazon is a retailer, what is Yahoo! James Fallows asks and answers his own question in A Journey to the Center of Yahoo!

He learned every week,Yahoo earns $90 million, its market cap is $53 billion, its sites, the largest single presence on the Web, account for 13% of all page views. Yahoo’s stretch reaches into more than 20 countries with 200 million active users.

Fallows was also fortunate enough to speak with Terry Semel, Yahoo’s CEO and other top officials like Frank Nazem, Chief Technology Officer and Jeff Weiner, SVP for Search and Marketing.

You can look at the evolution of search as a play in three acts,” said Jeff Weiner, the senior vice president for search and marketing. “The first is the ‘public’ Web, where if different people type the same query they’ll all get the same results.” The second, he said, was purely personal search – finding a file or photo, usually on your own machine.

“The third is the one that we are very interested in,” Mr. Weiner said. This is “social” or “community” searching, in which each attempt to find the right restaurant listing, medical advice site, vacation tip or other bit of information takes advantage of other people’s successes and failures in locating the same information.

The idea that human judgment can improve a search engine’s automatic findings is hardly new. From the dawn of the Web’s history – that is, over the last 15 years – companies have invented tools to help users assess the quality and relevance of information, often by relying on others’ opinions. Examples include Amazon’s user reviews, eBay’s feedback ratings and “trusted networks” created on many sites.

What Fallows was able to learn was Yahoo’s systematic plan to build “community intelligence” into nearly all aspects of its operations which will entice users to spend more time on Yahoo sites.

Take a look at the beta site for their new search.

A query from this page will return results from three sources. One is “My Web,” or pages each user has marked and asked Yahoo to save for later reference. (These pages are saved by Yahoo itself, on its servers, and don’t gum up your own machine.) Another is “Everyone’s Web,” the general Internet. Finally, there is “My Community’s Web,” pages marked as interesting or valuable by members of a social network. Thus, a search for information on new cars would bring up normal Web results, but also listings you had seen and wanted to retain, as well as friends’ advice on brands and dealers they had tried.

Why will it work better on Yahoo than elsewhere?

This is where its argument about scale comes in. “It is a key strength that our community is so large,” said Mr. Semel, who has seen Yahoo’s user base double in his four years as chief executive. With hundreds of millions of users, there is critical mass to create social networks that cover most locations and interests – for instance, a large and active user group among women in the United Arab Emirates.

As for Fallows

I still am not sure how to think about Yahoo. But I will think about it more than I used to.