Thursday, June 16, 2005

Yahoo! Launches Beta Search of Subscription Content

Reuters and many other outlets note the arrival of Yahoo!'s new Beta service for searching subscription content. The service currently supplies access to several "best of breed" business and consumer publications, including Consumer Reports,FT.com (60 days of archives only), Forrester Research, IEEE publications, New England Journal of Medicine, TheStreet.com and the Wall Street Journal (30 days archives only). There are rumblings of Factiva, LexisNexis and others coming down the road as well. The subscription search has its own page, though there is a link to subscription search from the search results pages of Yahoo!'s Web search engine. Like many federated search capabilities Yahoo! defaults to all sources but allows source-by-source filtering via checkbox options. Search results themselves share most of the same features as the Web search results, including the ability to save individual search items to one's "My Web" Yahoo! page, as well as site blocking preferences. The "advanced search" capability looks just like the Web search options with the addition of the subscription source checkboxes. Notably absent from the Beta subscription search results pages are any contextual ads. Search quality seems to be pretty good, but with such a limited universe of content it's really hard to tell.

One expects Yahoo!, with its more media-friendly outlook on content and a true media outlook on its portal services, to have skunked Google on this breakout service for a major search engine. This innovation allows prestigious publications that have been reluctant to make their subscription content accessible via Web searches in an environment segregated from that "other" content - the Web - that now threatens to overwhelm many media business models. With so few publications available, the current setup of this subscription search is hardly a test of the theory: if I wanted to do a search on an auto or a toaster, I may as well go to Consumer Reports directly or do a Web search, which will include some Consumer Reports content anyway. Similarly for most of the other sources. It's in this sense a true Beta, a feedback mechanism to give publishers and aggregators some idea as to what it will take to succeed in an online search environment. The real potential winners could be the major aggregators if and when the come on board, positioning them rather smartly as subscription agents for premium content available via the Yahoo! search interface for simple searches and via business application integration and more sophisticated tools through their own infrastructure in a business environment. This Beta is certainly a big shoe dropping in the world of premium content, but the real shoe dropping to listen for will be when the access to subscription content via Web search engines, regardless of its source, becomes as transparent as access to general Web content. The Yahoo! Beta is a very well calculated step in that direction, but only a fairly small step.
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