Yahoo Unveils New Search Browser

Syncs across desktop, iPad, iPhone

Despite outsourcing its search results to Bing, Yahoo maintains that it is still very much in the search game technology-wise. To prove as much, over the last six months the company’s search and innovation team has been working on a new search browser built to deliver an experience that syncs across desktop, iPad and iPhone.

“What we focused on is 'what does search look like over the next two years" and 'how do we build an experience that positions us in a place where we’re ahead of the curve?'” said Ethan Batraski, director of product management for search at Yahoo. After peering into the crystal ball, Batraski’s team found search's future to lie in “answers, not links.”  

Of course, Google had a similar vision when announcing its Knowledge Graph last week as centering on “things, not strings.”

Yahoo's answer-oriented new search product is called Axis. It's essentially a search browser which displays in-page visual results rather that a bunch of text links. The product is available as a desktop browser plug-in for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome or Safari as well as an iOS app (Yahoo’s working on an Android version of the app).

Wait, who needs a browser plug-in for search? Batraski explained Axis was developed for mobile first and then optimized for desktops because “your phone is probably the most powerful device you have—it knows everything about you—so really your phone should be able to do more than what your desktop or laptop can do.”

Thus, Axis sounds much more touchscreen friendly. When users open the Axis app, they’re taken into a typical mobile browser experience that allots them nine tabs with which to surf the Web. But when smartphone users swipe down from the top of the screen, they’ll find an address bar that doubles as a search box. When users input a query, results will populate below the box as page screenshots that users can scroll through horizontally.

Yahoo will display up to 25 visual results for any given query with additional results appearing as plain text like on a traditional results page. While Bing powers Axis’ back-end search technology as it does with traditional Yahoo search, Batraski and co. have engineered Axis to mine and reorder those results based on click feedback, such as time spent on a page.

The desktop plug-in functions similarly to the mobile apps but presents the results along the bottom of a Web browser and lacks the apps’ sharing capabilities. Unlike the desktop plug-in, the mobile apps also enable users to share content to Twitter and Pinterest or via email, and Yahoo will be adding the ability to share to Facebook and Google+, Batraski said. 

Users can register with the product through their Yahoo, Facebook or Google account so that the search experience connects across the plug-in and mobile apps. For example, a user of the iPad app can see the last page viewed in the iPhone app and desktop plug-in.

Axis doesn’t yet feature advertising, but Batraski said Yahoo would be able to slot in rich-media ads between the search results. “Imagine being able to have the power of a search ad and the contextual [targeting] with the richness of a display ad and have them merged together,” he said. “That’d be a huge value prop for the advertiser because now the user knows what’s behind the link so they know what to expect, and when they land there, they’re a more qualified lead.”

Axis marks the third straight week in which a major search product has been announced. Two weeks ago Microsoft announced a social-heavy overhaul of its Bing search engine, and last week Google said it was adding the aforementioned Knowledge Graph.

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