I had the great fortune of having the Yahoo SearchMonkey team speak at last nights Refresh Detroit. Prior to the speaking I really did not have the full grasp on what yahoo! was doing and what the SearchMonkey platform really was. However I learned that it has the very real possibility of changing the way people search and the way we, as web developers, great web pages.
SearchMonkey is a platform that went live on Yahoo! search as of last night, that allows plugins to be written to ENHANCE search results. Meaning that you can turn on/off by preference extra information in the search results. Now of course this doesn’t sound revolutionary, so let me give you an example.
You are searching for information about a movie you may want to rent. Normally you might have to click through 4-5 different websites to get all the details you would like (review, cast, synopsis, and a picture to make sure it is the one you were thinking of).
Yahoo! SearchMonkey would render a listing of the movie with tabs below it that let you quickly open up a viewing area for more information. From there you can tab through the rating/review, the cast, synopsis, etc… with out ever leaving the page.
This is done by people writing plug-ins, or through interpreting the semantic code on the page itself. For example if I know that all upcoming.org events follow the same format, I can configure (and I say configure vs write because Yahoo! makes it very easy) a plugin that extracts the image, the location, the title, a link to the map, and renders them all in the search result.
That plugin can be for my personal use, it can be reviewed for use in the public gallery (anyone can turn it on), and if it gets popular enough it can be turned on by default.
Now the semantic side… SearchMonkey is already going to be using microformats and RDF to pull semantic data out of webpages and will be rendering them in the search results. That means any sites already using hReview will have the bonus of review information showing up in the results. It also means that if you have hCards or hCalendars they will also start to appear in the Yahoo! search results.
This is exciting for many reasons. One it improves the searching experience, by allowing the search engines to provide better data and information that is semantically accurate to those who are looking for specific information. It also will push developers to adopt the semantic web, expand microformats, and get to a point where we can do much more with our websites than we are doing now.
Here is an example, I turned on the LinkedIn plugin and searched for Derek Mehraban. Normally the LinkedIn profile shows up like this:
You get the normal title, a blurb below it, and the URL. Hopefully that is enough to know this is the person you are looking for more information about. However if you turn on the plugin you get the result below:
Notice how it pulls in specific relevant information into the result for a site that has nothing to do with Yahoo? Now we know for sure this is the person we are looking for more information regarding. Excellent.
Give it a try, go to Yahoo and edit your search preferences. The plugins are in the enhanced results section (note it is a little tricky to turn them on, you end up having to click add and save like 3-4 times. I am sure they will work on this).
The real power here is if people start using them more and enjoying them. While only a few plugins will start on by default, they plan to add more and more as people come to understand and enjoy specific ones. If this does gain the steam that I hope it does, you will see many more people writing semantic code so that search engines like Yahoo can pull in relevant data to be added to the SERPs.