Yahoo’s mindshare problem

Last weekend I attended Yahoo’s Open Hack Day in London.

It was excellent. I wasn’t hacking myself; but enjoyed the tech talks. I also had an opportunity to interview execs including co-founder David Filo, Cody Simms who does Product Management for Yahoo Open Strategy, and Sophie Major the head of the International Developer Network.

Highlights for me were Rasmus Lerdorf talking about smart PHP tricks, and a session on the amazing Yahoo Query Language which really does make the Internet look like one giant database which you can query.

I wrote up some of my interview for The Register, concluding:

Open Hack Day certainly showcased some impressive technology. The question is whether Yahoo! still has the marketing muscle to reverse its declining influence and truly to unsettle the likes of Google and Facebook and disrupt the market.

Events this week proved this exact point. During Open Hack Day there were talks on Microformats, RDFa and Yahoo Search Monkey. Search Monkey reads data on your site that includes semantic mark-up in order to present more meaningful search results.

On Tuesday Google announced Rich Snippets:

To display Rich Snippets, Google looks for markup formats (microformats and RDFa) that you can easily add to your own web pages.

So were the headlines “Google catches up with Yahoo”? Not at all; most of the world apparently thought Google had invented something new and amazing. Timothy O’Brien reported on it for O’Reilly and apparently was not aware of Yahoo’s earlier initiative. He added a postscript:

We’ve had some response about failing to mention Yahoo’s SearchMonkey which also supports RDFa and Microformats. Google is certainly not the first search engine to support RDFa and Microformats, but it certainly has the most influence on the search market. With 72% of the search market, Google has the influence to make people pay attention to RDFa and Microformats.

Correct; though I also suspect Yahoo could do a better job of marketing its technology. Talk of disrupting Google seems fanciful at this point. Having said that, Twitter is doing it just a little bit: somehow it is easier for a tiny organization with a bright idea than for a giant from the past.

In the meantime, take a look at YQL. It’s brilliant.