Microsoft and Yahoo! will announce a deal tomorrow wherein Microsoft's Bing will become the new Yahoo! search engine and Yahoo! will sell ads against those search results on its site. There's a whole lot of money in play, but as users we don't think that's the most interesting part of this story. There may be some very interesting consequences, both positive and negative, for innovation - our favorite part of the online experience. Our guess is that it will be a net negative for forward-looking web users.Multiple reports tonight say that
Bing's new substantial market share will put new pressure on Google to step up to the plate and wow us again, but the likely loss of Yahoo's own search work could be a major loss for the web at large. There are some awesome projects underway at Yahoo! Search and the people who work on them have to be concerned about the future of their jobs and work. We're worried too, we really like the things they've made for us to use.
New Competitive Pressure from Bing
The Google search experience has been slow and steady in terms of visible evolution over the years. The team there is, no doubt, always working to improve the search product - but few bold moves have really been taken. The introduction of multi-media into search results has been great, the search wiki product has just been pointless clutter, the voice search on the iPhone is cool.
AdAge reports that ComScore shows Bing will now have a 28% market share when combined with Yahoo! search, though. Google must have felt competitive pressure from Bing before this deal, but now the pressure will really be on to differentiate and strengthen the Google search brand.
BOSS, Delicious, Search Monkey: What Will Happen to Them?
Search is more than web search at yahoo.com, and Bing does more than just web search at Bing.com. Ads are sold against it all, and we expect that the Bing takeover of Yahoo Search will be extensive.
Yahoo! gets criticized a lot from a business perspective, and the company launches some pretty hokey products, but a lot of the work going on there is fabulous. Yahoo's search team has done more than almost any other major vendor in the market to support the open standards and semantic web work that we love so much. Yahoo's Build Your Own Search Service and Search Monkey markup are incredibly innovative. (See also And Nerds Became Kings: Yahoo! To Announce Semantic Web Support.)
Social bookmarking service Delicious, one of the last era's most heartbreaking symbols of untapped potential in social media, is in the search department. Why stay on top of the care and feeding of Delicious, which was helping feed Yahoo! Search results, if Yahoo! isn't doing its own search any more?
If Yahoo Maps gets touched by the deal, that means the future of potential-rich projects like the Yahoo! Location Database have to be in question. Maps is in the search department, as is the wonderful Yahoo! News product. Here's the list of everything that falls under search at Yahoo!.
Update: Yahoo PR just called us to say that the list we linked to above, which is linked off the search.yahoo.com page, is a consumer facing list of search-related services, like News Search and Map Search, but most of those are not or are no longer formally part of the Search Department. They had no comment about the looming shadow of Bing, but again - Bing does almost all of those things themselves as search functions, and Yahoo may end up selling ads against the Bing versions on Yahoo.com.
It's possible that all of these Yahoo search-type projects will remain in operation, but it sure seems unlikely. Maybe they weren't changing the world like good old search advertising has, anyway.
Bing is exciting as an effective challenger to Google, but if that competition comes at the cost of cannibalizing Yahoo's innovative search work - then we won't be so excited about Bing any more. Maybe the most developer-savvy Yahoo Search team members will go breathe more life into the Bing developer community, and maybe they'll be able to get more traction there. We'll still shed a little tear for any of our favorite Yahoo projects that get run over in this deal.