Yahoo's Monkey Goes Live

SUNNYVALE, CALIF. -- The IT zoo -- already crowded with penguins, fish, lizards and at least one duck -- had to make room for another critter Thursday. SearchMonkey, a new online development platform and toolset from Yahoo designed to provide developers with a way to use the structured data collected online by Yahoo Search, has officially launched.

Applications developed with SearchMonkey pull structured data from multiple sources and use PHP to display that data. Developers use it to add data services to their Web applications -- things like ratings, reviews, images, contact information and navigational links to search results. Essentially, they create small, sharable apps that enhance Yahoo Search results, explained Amit Kumar, director of product management for Yahoo's Search group (though he now prefers the title "chief SearchMonkey").

"In the past, we've done a lot with unstructured data," Kumar said in an interview Thursday. "But the structured data has become as important. We think this is the killer app for surfacing that data."

SearchMonkey supports multiple formats, including microformats, RDFa, eRDF and XML feeds, as well as APIs such as OpenSearch. And the data services can be built using Yahoo Search index data or data from publicly available sources.

With this initiative, Yahoo is inviting developers to leverage the structured data it collects and indexes from Web sites. Structured data is the roughly 20 percent of all data that fits neatly into the cells of a relational database; the other 80 percent is unstructured data -- audio and video files, e-mail, Word documents, etc. (Thanks to the XML, there's a third category emerging: semi-structured data, which you see in Microsoft's controversial Office 2007 file formats.) Developers and Web site owners can use SearchMonkey to tap into Yahoo's store of sliced-and-diced data to make search results more useful and visually appealing, and ultimately to drive more relevant traffic to their sites, Kumar said.

Yahoo began talking about this project in February, and the company rolled out a limited preview during the recent Web 2.0 Conference. Thursday's launch marks the beginning of Yahoo's open strategy, according to Kumar. He added that Yahoo Search is the first major search engine to open its search page to site owners and software developers, and allow them to create "visibly differentiated" search results for their users.

It's worth noting that the launch comes on the heels of news that Microsoft has abandoned its acquisition bid for Yahoo, and just a day after activist investor Carl Icahn announced his intention to replace Yahoo's board of directors in an effort to make that sale happen. Kumar wouldn't comment on the timing of the launch.

Yahoo is hoping to spur interest in the new platform with a competition offering $20,000 worth of prizes. Prizes will be awarded in four categories -- Best Enhanced Result, Best Infobar, Most Innovative Use of Structured Data and Best Data Service -- with a Grand Prize for best app in all categories. Applications must be submitted by June 14.

SearchMonkey is being hosted by SourceForge here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].