Future uncertain for Yahoo developer programs

The future of Yahoo BOSS, Search Monkey and Yahoo search APIs is uncertain after the search deal with Microsoft

Yahoo's high-profile and widely used search APIs (application programming interfaces) and search programs for external developers are up in the air after the company's decision to outsource its search engine services to Microsoft.

This uncertainty is causing concern among developers who have spent time and resources using Yahoo search APIs and programs like BOSS (Build Your Own Search Service) and Search Monkey.

In the wake of Wednesday's announcement of the deal with Microsoft, Yahoo is doing little to dispel the worries of search developers it has until now aggressively courted.

Asked for comment about how the Microsoft deal will affect Yahoo's search developer initiatives, Yahoo was noncommittal.

"This is the beginning of a process and we'll be working with Microsoft to determine what makes the best sense for both us and developers," a company spokeswoman said via e-mail.

Yahoo will continue to innovate on the search user experience and will continue to engage with developers "on several fronts," she said.

"Over the next several months we'll determine what makes sense with our developer offerings and provide information when available," the spokeswoman said.

At startup Buildasearch.com, which uses Yahoo BOSS to power its search-engine building service, the news of the Microsoft deal has made executive Diego Montalvo nervous.

"Yahoo Search has probably met its fate, and that's a shame," he said.

If Yahoo is going to use Microsoft's Bing search engine, it stands to reason that Yahoo's search developer tools will disappear, since it wouldn't make sense for Yahoo to continue running its search technology just for developers, he said. "It's very upsetting."

Montalvo is seriously considering the proactive move of re-architecting his company's service for the Bing API.

He also predicts that given the uncertainty over Yahoo search developer initiatives, there's likely to soon be a massive exodus of developers.

IDC analyst Al Hilwa concurs that the future of Yahoo's search developer initiatives is uncertain and understands developers' unrest. "It's legitimate for developers to worry right now and try to seek answers and commitments," he said.

"From the outline of the deal, it appears that Yahoo is pulling out of search. Having Microsoft technology powering Yahoo search calls into question [the future of] any Yahoo search APIs and algorithms for search," Hilwa added.

However, Hilwa cautions developers against panicking. The deal may fall apart if government regulators object to it, and if it gets government approval, the process could take a long time, he said.

Then, after getting approval, the deal will not be fully implemented for another two years, as acknowledged by Microsoft and Yahoo in Wednesday's press release, so Yahoo search developer tools may remain untouched for a long time, Hilwa said.

"My advice to developers is nuanced. Since change won't happen for some time and in the meantime Yahoo search continues to operate as is, my advice for people with ready-to-roll-out projects is to go forward with them. However, if you're starting a new project, think twice," he said.

It would be in the best interests of all involved, including Microsoft and Yahoo, for the companies to announce their intentions regarding search developer initiatives sooner rather than later, Hilwa said.

Tobias Peggs, general manager at OneRiot, a search startup that has partnered with both Yahoo and Microsoft over the past 18 months, is confident developers will hear from them soon.

"They're both very good at communicating to the developer community what's going on, and there's no reason to think that will change," Peggs said.

OneRiot, whose search engine is designed to index and rank the latest "real time" content posted on the Web, such as Twitter items, uses BOSS for the small fraction of its queries that require more conventional results. In addition to being an inaugural launch partner for BOSS, OneRiot recently partnered with Microsoft for the release of a special version of Internet Explorer 8 pre-loaded with OneRiot technology for real-time search.

Upendra Shardanand, CEO of Daylife, which also uses Yahoo BOSS, is hopeful that the service will survive the deal, even if it's modified. "I have a hard time seeing BOSS go away," he said.

However, he acknowledged with a chuckle that he plans to call his contact over at Yahoo soon in order to inquire about the company's plans for BOSS and the other search developer tools.

On a broader scale, what happens with the Yahoo search developer programs is important because they are key to the company's ambitious Yahoo Open Strategy (Y OS) initiative, said industry analyst Greg Sterling from Sterling Market Intelligence.

A major component of Y OS is the effort to radically open Yahoo sites and services to external developers. All along, search developer initiatives have been hailed by Yahoo as major components in the evolution of Y OS.

"This was part of their whole reinvention of Yahoo," Sterling said.

In fact, when it made its Y OS announcement in April of last year, Yahoo timed it with the beta release of Search Monkey, which lets external developers create applications to enhance Yahoo Web search results and, in theory, make them more appealing and useful.

Later, Yahoo launched BOSS, a platform to let third parties create their own search engines leveraging Yahoo's search infrastructure. BOSS has grown aggressively and now accounts for a sizable amount of Yahoo search queries.

"What happens to BOSS and Search Monkey?," Gartner analyst Allen Weiner wondered.

Developers will have to wait to find out the answer to that question.

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Juan Carlos Perez

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