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The war between Yahoo! and Google has intensified, as Yahoo! introduced more of its own search engine technology for its US site yesterday.

The portal has used Google's search for the past four years, but began to blend-in its own listings eighteen months ago. Google responded by sending co-founder Sergey Brin on a rare press tour, which is as uncommon a sight as Dick Cheney leaving his bunker.

The two web giants have a commercial relationship as complex as their technical relationship: but to oversimplify the situation somewhat, Yahoo! decided that it could do as good a job without paying Google.

With its revamped search tool, Yahoo! has followed Google's winning formula closely, but indexes more of each web page than Google and returns, by default, twenty entries. Google has responded by touting an increased image database, and boasting of five new tweaks to its algorithm.

It's too early to say how good the Yahoo! search really is, but for Yahoo! it may be good enough. It's as clean and fast as Google, and the results look remarkably similar. Both are wrestling with a formula that was appropriate for the Web in 1998 but is now prone to manipulation and pollution.

Trackback

For example, running the query "Mac OS X discussion" that so severely tripped up Google last year, Yahoo! returns just three "trackbacks" in the first 20 results, while Google returns six in the first ten. (The software authors responsible for trackbacks have corrected the problem in TypePad, and bloggers are advised to keep trackbacks inline.) So Yahoo! appears to take such problems more seriously than Google, although it's wise to wait several weeks before drawing any firm conclusions.

The much-cited "search engine business" is trivial in comparison to the much more significant war between the two over classified text advertisements, which sees Yahoo!'s Overture pitted against Google's Adwords and Adsense programs.

As Search Engine Watch editor Danny Sullivan noted here, Yahoo! paid Google a mere $7.1m in 2001. But as advertising brokers, the pair are bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, which has enabled Google's rapid and apparently chaotic growth over the twelve months.

We know where you live

But Google is fighting back to preserve its reputation as the world's favorite search engine. Google already performs a reverse lookup of US telephone numbers, and with one click, can take you to a map of the subscriber's house. Describing the enhanced features, Google co-founder Sergey Brin explained,

"It helps, for example, if you're searching for a person like your next-door neighbor, you may get no result," said Brin this week. "Now you'll get one."

We've always found knocking on your next-door neighbor's door with a bowl of sugar is a terrific way to make friends. However, for the sad, the lonely and for potential stalkers everywhere, this could be a boon.

Remember: it's a feature, not a bug. ®

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