Thursday, July 10

Yahoo BOSS: Full web search at your fingertips

Today Yahoo launched BOSS - Build your Own Search Service. This is a huge step forward. It allows developers to build white-box applications using Yahoo's search engine. Vik Singh, Search Strategy & Architect at Yahoo!, has a great insider's take on the launch.

In my online experience, I typically visit a variety of sites: Techmeme, Digg, Techcrunch, eBay, Amazon,, etc... The biggest goal of Boss is to help bootstrap sites like these to get comprehensiveness and basic ranking for free, as well as offer tools to re-rank, blend, and overlay the results in a way that revolutionizes the search experience... I think users should be confident that if they searched in a search box on any page in the whole wide web that they’ll get results that are just as good as Yahoo/Google and only better...

The next couple of milestones for Boss I think are even more interesting and disruptive - server side services, monetization, blending ranking models, more features exposure … so stay tuned.
The new search API returns results in both JSON and XML. There is also a new BOSS mashup framework that provides SQL-like syntax for web data sources, like BOSS.

My first plan is to try it with RecipeComun, my recipe search engine, to add a spell-checking ability. Ideally, I'd also like to backfill recipe results with web search results. However, I want to only return results from a slice of Yahoo's index, the food section. I can do something like this with Google Custom Search Engine, but I'm not keen on Google's restrictions. Perhaps I will start by adding site: restrictions, but I'm not sure how far I'll get with that.

Also, one observation is that the restriction on 50 results is very limiting if you want to perform any kind of significant reranking. Will multiple queries at different start offsets be throttled if you try and get around this? (Answer: you can get up to result 1000 by paging. This seems inefficient, why not allow this in fewer queries?)

  • What is that max "start" position possible? (Answer: 950)
  • What is the maximum supported query length? (for query expansion and site restrictions)
  • In the future, would it be possible to get result metadata from the Webmap?
Thank to Vik and all the other Yahoo!s involved in the product. I look forward to trying it out.


  1. Not surprising that they don't let you change the sort criterion. I don't think anyone has offered a web search API that allows you to do that--and that seems like the key ingredient to making this truly useful.

  2. Agreed.

    I didn't talk about the ranking/filtering angle too much since BOSS is a new project and it's going in an encouraging direction.

    Having at least some control over what content is indexed, how it is indexed, and how it is ranked is key to building novel search applications.

    A very simple example is adding structured metadata to a document and using it to sort/filter the results.

  3. daniel,

    Yahoo BOSS news search lets you filter the results by 1-30 days, but you're right, the inability to sort the results kills a lot of potential uses.
    Maybe BOSS Custom provides more options..