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Discussion with Dr. Prabhakar Raghavan, Head of Research at Yahoo

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Discussion with Dr. Prabhakar Raghavan, Head of Research at Yahoo

The Hindu Business Line has an interesting discussion on search, user intent, micro-economics of search and user generated meta data with Dr. Prabhakar Raghavan, Head of Research at Yahoo.

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Raghavan speak, you’d know how the man’s enthralling passion for search and his research team invigorates the conversation with drive and confidence.

If you haven’t, this discussion with K. Bharat Kumar of Hindu Business Line is the next best thing.

On Searcher Intent

At Yahoo! type ‘Papa John’s’. It’s a pizza chain in the US. It’s also a publicly traded company. The top result is the home page of the company. That is to be expected. Along with this, I give two more links. I see that it could be an investor interested in the stock. So I give a link to Yahoo! Financials for related information about the company. On the other hand, you could be hungry. So, I give you phone numbers and addresses of outlets nearest your home. I am now trying to resolve possible goals.

So, we sequence your query, divine your intent and get you there as quickly as possible. It serves you and hence us well. So you think we are prescient and you come back again and again.

On Google vs. Yahoo

Google talks about universal search. Microsoft and we are thinking about it. We do not want to give users 10 matching documents but actually craft an experience that fulfils a need.

Airports have three-letter codes. For example, MAA stands for Chennai while SFO stands for San Francisco. If you type these two along with a date, Google gives you matching documents that could be nonsense. At the top, it also fills out a travel form with these two cities with a couple of dates with links to Expedia and the like. Anyone typing that in is almost certain to buy air tickets. So, why not give it to them, instead of some documents?

On User Reviews and Monetary Incentives

Reviews are an example; uploading and tagging photos on Flickr, tagging pages on Del.icio.us is another. The trick that no one has figured out here completely is, how do you complete a virtuous cycle so that contributors also gain and people are incentivised to contribute content?

It’s not necessarily money as incentive. I should feel good that something useful emerges out of it. In Yahoo! Answers, you get points so you get a rush. Question is how sustainable is that and how much value is generated from the content that is unique and defensible. It’s glib to say that Yahoo! Answers succeeded and that Google shut down its version. Now comes the ’then what?’ question.

The challenge for us is to figure out underlying motives and why people do what they do. Maybe in search there is intent to get task done. Communication is more casual – human nature is to communicate. As to content creation and consumption, human nature plays a role there too. But you need to get the expression to create greater good.

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Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing ... [Read full bio]

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