Yahoo splits hairs

The portal is facing the Herculean task of understanding its audience, reports Prerna K Mishra.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2006 15:23 IST

Being big brings its own burden. If you have doubts, ask Yahoo!

The portal which has about 500 million unique users with 3.5 billion pages accessed every day, with 12 terabytes of data generated each day, is faced with the Herculean Task of understanding its target audience.

Understanding what nearly half of the one billion people who hit the net today needs a new science and this one has to be built from scratch. And that's exactly what Yahoo Research — the research arm of Yahoo is busy doing.

"Knowledge of computer sciences and engineering is not the only winningedge today. We are increasingly banking on microeconomics, cognitive psychology, sociology and related areas to understand how and why humans communicate in the fashion they do. Today, the net is not about computers interacting with humans but people communicating with each other," says Prabhakar Raghavan, who heads Yahoo Research.

Raghavan is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai and a PhD from the University of Berkeley.

The expert in "mining" text and Web design to find out what consumers are up to assumed charge of Yahoo's research in July last year. He is a Consulting Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the ACM (Association for Computing Machinery).

Experts like Raghavan are at work to find ways to boost ad revenues. In fact, with social-networking sites and smaller competitors biting into Yahoo!'s advertising dollars, the company needs to increase its grip on users and audience.That in itself will need the introduction of economic auction models on the site and narrowing of the search to deliver advertisement models closely related to search queries.

This would result in greater ad clicks from Yahoo's audience and more pay-per-click revenue for Yahoo. At Yahoo Research, there are many components to working towards this "human facing Internet". To begin with, the company has realised that traditional "relational databases" that ferret information stored systematically in computers stood good for payroll processing and other corporate work. But for people to communicate with each other, a community system is required. This requires new kinds of complex software.

"We are working on a new middleware on top of the Net platform that is good for friendship and social communication," Raghavan said.

In fact, Yahoo is increasingly hiring high-expertise ethnographers, cognitive physiologists and sociologists under its "Media Experience Design Initiative" to make the human-computer interaction seamless by applying some basic rules of microeconomics.

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First Published: Dec 29, 2006 15:23 IST