In the next evolution of search engines, Google and Yahoo both announced new versions of their personalized search efforts. Google launched their personalized search. And moments ago, Yahoo launched My Web 2.0 (screenshot). Caterina announced it first on Flickr.
I was invited to a private demo of My Web 2.0 at the Yahoo campus a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been beta-testing since then. Aside from the awkward name, I’m impressed. At the very least, it blows Google’s offering out of the water, and follows in a recent trend of Yahoo’s smart moves and acquisitions.
My initial impression was that it was, depressingly, a Del.icio.us killer. (I later changed my mind; more on that later.) It lets you share bookmarks with a clean interface, and it supports tagging and annotation, RSS feeds, and an open API. But My Web 2.0 improves on other social bookmarking services in two very important ways:
1. Social networking. With My Web 2.0, you can decide to share individual bookmarks with the world, limit them to only your social network, or keep them private. The application of this is in browsing and searching pages that your friends (and their friends) bookmarked. If you’re looking for a restaurant recommendation or product review, for example, their bookmarking history and annotations are very useful input. If your friends actually use it, this becomes an essential way to search the web.
2. Search. Because Yahoo’s indexed nearly every webpage you can bookmark, users are able to search the full-text of every webpage they’ve ever indexed, instead of just the bookmark name, description and URL.
After mulling it over, I don’t think that My Web 2.0 and sites like Del.icio.us are mutually exclusive. Because they both have open APIs, it’s very possible to export your Del.icio.us bookmarks to My Web 2.0 for searching functionality or use a third-party service that posts to both. More importantly, they feel different and will likely be used for different purposes. Matt has some thoughts on what makes each unique.
And because it’s Yahoo, their massive user base potentially translates into a huge network effect. As more people use the service, the more invaluable it becomes for everyone.
The first post to their new blog has a brief To-Do list of upcoming features, but it doesn’t mention the three important items that were raised during the beta testing. First, tagging, saving, and annotating bookmarks should all be done inline within search results. The popup windows stink. Second, there should be no distinction between Yahoo’s normal search and My Web 2.0 search. It should simply be “Search.” Finally, using the social network tools should require only the bare minimum of interaction with Yahoo 360. 360 is too bulky for something as simple as managing a contact list.
These issues aside, Phil brought up the issue of context. Does bookmarking make sense in the context of searching the entire web? Does your social network have enough breadth to make a dent in normal search queries? Maybe not, and if casual web users don’t see the immediate benefit to themselves, they may never start to participate. If so, the network effect may never materialize. We’ll see.
For Yahoo and Google, the benefits are clear. By collecting aggregate information about bookmarked sites, they’ll be able to increase the relevancy of their search results and marginally combat the spam problem. And if their users get hooked on social bookmarks, they’ll be locked in forever.