Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) isn't falling to pieces under unwelcome advances from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . Instead, the company is doing some very smart things that will help immensely down the road -- as long as the Y and the M stay at arm's length.
The latest improvement is an open platform for sharing extra information with Yahoo!'s search engine: "Instead of a simple title, abstract and URL, for the first time users will see rich results that incorporate the massive amount of data buried in websites -- ratings and reviews, images, deep links, and all kinds of other useful data -- directly on the Yahoo! Search results page."
For example, launch partner WebMD (Nasdaq: WBMD ) can seed search results for a particular drug with information about side effects, precautions, and drug interactions, while Yelp or Epicurious can design info-packed search result blurbs for their restaurant reviews.
The idea is to make the search data more relevant to the user, and I think that opening the back-end interfaces to some degree is a very smart effort that could put a thorn in Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG ) side. It's akin to the way Facebook started its booster rockets by opening up its programming interfaces to the world. Get a global community of hobbyist and commercial developers involved in your services, and you get a better business with a new cadre of loyal fans -- at next to no cost.
Of course, there's nothing to stop Google or Ask.com parent IAC (Nasdaq: IACI ) from shadowing Yahoo!'s moves or trying to go one better. The best thing for the Internet and its users would be an open semantic platform that all search engines could tap into, but this is serious business, and a love-in share fest is not going to happen.
For now, Yahoo! gets an advantage with these improved search results. But if you drop a better mousetrap in the woods and nobody is there to search it, does it catch a user? Some end-user marketing would be in order, Jerry. Pull this one off the right way, and Microsoft's bid could end up looking ridiculous -- just the way you want it.