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April 27, 2005

Yahoo Beefs Up Personal Search

Courtesy of TechWeb News

Yahoo Inc. on Wednesday boosted its offerings in its personal-search service, making it easier to save and retrieve web pages and providing tools for sharing them online with other people.

The Sunnyvale, Calif., portal launched My Web in beta, integrating the company's search history service that was launched in October. The latter tracks use of the Yahoo web search engine, so a person can go back later and find previous results to queries.

The release followed less than a week after Google launched in beta a personal search tool that keeps a detailed history of a person's web search. Such tools have raised concerns among privacy groups that say the information gathered could later be used to target individuals for advertising or subpoenaed by law enforcement officials or lawyers.

Yahoo addresses the privacy issue in My Web by having the tracking tool turned off by default, which means a person has to opt in to have a search history created.

"We don't want to automatically start tracking people, if they don't want us too," Tim Mayer, director of product management for Yahoo search technology, said.

Yahoo is offering My Web as a way to get people to use the portal's services more often, and does not plan on targeting users with online advertising, a major source of the company's revenues.

"It's about people storing the information that matters to them on the Yahoo network, so they can keep coming back," Mayer said. "It's about stickiness.... Right now, there's no monetization within this product."

In order to make use of My Web easy, Yahoo released on Wednesday an upgrade of its browser toolbar in beta. Through the application, a person can begin a Yahoo web search, chose a URL, go to the web page and then decide whether to save it in My Web. Without the toolbar, a person can save pages only from the search results.

URLs of pages saved in My Web can be sent to others by email or Yahoo instant messaging. The pages also can be organized into folders. Yahoo plans to let people share their folders with others through the Yahoo 360 social network, once the service is out of beta. That's expected in a matter of "weeks, not months." Mayer said. A timetable for general availability of My Web was not been disclosed.

Bookmarks from Internet Explorer can be imported into My Web, buy only if the browser is running on Windows versions prior to XP Service Pack 2. Security features prevent the importation, a technical issue Yahoo hopes to address in the future. Bookmarks from Firefox, a popular open-source browser offered by the Mozilla Foundation, also can't be imported.

"We'd like to support everything, and we're looking into ways for importing any data," Mayer said.

URLs in a folder marked as shareable by the My Web user also can be distributed through RSS newsreaders. RSS, or rich site summary, is a technology based on extensible markup language that enables a person to aggregate web content from multiple sources and updates to that information.

For developers, Yahoo has released an open application programming interface, or API, for drawing public data from My Web. For example, a person who knows the URLs for shared folders on a particular topic could aggregate that information on a web page. Someone, however, could not do a full search of all public folders to look for information.

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