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Yahoo Had Instant Search In 2005 & Dropped It; Bing Kind Of Has It Now


Google’s Instant Search might be a “fundamental shift in search,” as described yesterday by Marissa Mayer, but it’s certainly not new.

Yahoo Instant Search

On September 15, 2005, Yahoo launched an innovative search tool called Yahoo Instant Search. It was available at instant.search.yahoo.com, but that URL leads to a 404 page now. Danny Sullivan wrote about Yahoo Instant Search the day it launched:

Yahoo’s given the heads-up that a new Instant Search feature is to be offered by the time this story goes live. Type in a word, and Instant Search will show you an answer for popular queries in a “speech bubble” directly below the search box.

And much like Google’s Instant Search, Yahoo’s version in 2005 “depends on Ajax to make the magic happen quickly,” Danny explained. Here’s a look at the Yahoo Instant Search page as it appears on Archive.org (don’t miss the “why feel lucky” dig at Google):


Yahoo Instant Search was never made available on the Yahoo.com home page but, as you can see in the image above, users could manually add it to the Yahoo search home page at search.yahoo.com.

AlltheWeb Livesearch

Meanwhile, Yahoo engineers were also working on a similar-but-separate search tool called Livesearch. It was an experiment that resembled Google’s version more closely than Yahoo Instant Search. Yahoo installed Livesearch on its AlltheWeb search engine at livesearch.alltheweb.com in May, 2006. Again from Archive.org, you can read Yahoo’s announcement, which describes Livesearch thusly:

It helps you find what you want faster, by showing search results instantaneously as you type. Livesearch also shows related queries, spelling suggestions, and enables you to use keyboard shortcuts to help you find the right query faster to get to the results that you want. As some of you might be thinking, this is an evolution of Instant Search and other search technologies we’ve been working on.

Danny wrote about Livesearch at the time. Philipp Lenssen did, too, and shared this screenshot on his Google Blogoscoped article:


Search suggestions/predictions appeared in the left column, while search results updated instantly in the main content area.

What Happened To Livesearch & Instant Search?

Stephen Hood was a product manager on Yahoo’s search team in 2005 who oversaw the company’s development of these tools. After yesterday’s Google event, he shared his memories of Livesearch: “It was slick. It was extremely useful. It was a potential game-changer. And it was almost exactly the same product as Google Instant.”

So why didn’t Livesearch take off if it was so slick? Hood says Yahoo had “very little institutional appetite for product risk.”

Yahoo would not let us ship LiveSearch on yahoo.com or as a part of Yahoo’s search engine. Instead we were only allowed to launch it on AllTheWeb, a smaller, lower-traffic search engine that Yahoo had acquired years earlier and largely left to atrophy. (In comparison, Google just launched it on google.com. Boom.)

It’s an interesting article and worth a read on its own. But other former Yahoo employees are adding interesting thoughts in the comments, too. One ex-Yahoo mentions that Livesearch provided the foundation for Yahoo’s current Search Assist suggestion tool, but adds that Yahoo “didn’t have the infrastructure to be able to serve live as-you-type search results to 100% of our users.” And infrastructure is certainly a problem that Google doesn’t have.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: Want an alternative to Google Instant that still lives? Check out The Real Live Search. Launched last year, the service that taps into Bing gained a little attention including a TechCrunch write-up but then was largely forgotten, even by me until Bing’s Stefan Weitz reminded me yesterday. It still lives.

Google’s implementation is nicer, but Google had a huge number of people working on theirs. The Real Live Search is a one-person operation. It also highlights that it shouldn’t be that hard for Bing itself to quickly imitate what Google has done.

Postscript from Matt McGee: YouTube user “obayley” has uploaded a video demo from 2006 showing how Livesearch worked.

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