Yahoo reportedly wants out of a deal that ties its search services to Microsoft, and is preparing new technological initiatives to reclaim its position in the search market.
According to Kara Swisher at Re/code, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is pushing two new initiatives called “Fast Break” and “Curveball” that could position Yahoo once again as a player in Web search and the lucrative search-advertising market that accompanies it.
Yet it's not clear how merely taking back control of its own search product will help Yahoo turn around its shrinking market share.
Searching For Developers
Yahoo faces a thorny legal problem in extracting itself from a multiyear contract with Microsoft. It also has a challenge in rebuilding its search team, where it has lost much of the talent it built up over the years competing with Google.
Mayer, who has focused on rebuilding Yahoo’s engineering ranks since joining the company in 2012, could likely solve these problems. But it's far from clear how she will then get consumers, long used to Googling everything, to switch to Yahoo.
Yahoo handed its search infrastructure over to Microsoft in 2009, with Microsoft also selling search advertising on both Yahoo and its own Bing search engine.
Sources told Swisher that the two projects, once completed, would result in a full search engine oriented to mobile.
Google dominates desktop Web search, so consumers don’t have a compelling reason to switch to Yahoo’s services.
Yahoo could change that by building services that appeal to mobile developers, who would in turn have a financial interest in promoting a new Yahoo mobile search.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, Mayer announced the acquisition of Aviate, an “intelligent homescreen” startup. On Android phones, Aviate rearranges the apps that appear on the home screen of a phone based on your usage patterns.
For instance, if you get up everyday at 6 a.m. and check the weather, your mobile device will learn that behavior and start showing you Yahoo Weather right when you wake up.
While that could obviously benefit Yahoo's own portfolio of news, sports, and stocks apps, Aviate's technology could also help developers boost usage of their own apps.
The Right App At The Right Time
To further capture the interest of developers, Yahoo could let users search for information across their existing apps. If those searches come up empty, Yahoo could prompt users to download new apps. (Such app-download advertising is part of what’s driving Facebook’s success in mobile.)
Yahoo has some assets it could leverage in this push, like Boss, Yahoo’s search API. Boss let developers build search products on top of Yahoo's search technology. But it's clear that Boss hasn’t gotten much attention recently.
Yahoo will face stiff competition. Google recently overhauled Android to make it easier to search within apps and link directly to specific sections within an app. This is actually a technology Yahoo could leverage within its own app search, but it will have to outmaneuver Google on its own turf. Facebook, too, is overhauling its Graph Search engine for mobile, and already knows a lot about the way people use Facebook-linked mobile apps.
But Mayer, who led search at Google during its inexorable rise, knows what it’s like to take on entrenched competition. The alternative is the status quo—shrinking market share and a Microsoft deal that binds her hands.