Marissa Mayer's plan to take on Google is code-named 'Index'
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She said that the product will be a mobile search/personal assistant product in the vein of Apple's Siri, Google Now, or Microsoft's Cortana. We've been speaking with a Yahoo source about this product, and have a few details to share about its development.
According to this source, the product's code-named is Index. It's going to be a smartphone app. Mayer has set a company-wide goal to have a pilot version of Index built sometime during the second quarter. Advertising engineers are already involved in the project, so it's likely the product will be ad-supported. The product's development is being led by executives named Jeff Bonforte and Peter Monaco.
Bonforte is the Yahoo executive in charge of almost all of the company's "communications" products - including email and a not-yet-release messaging app. Bonforte came to Yahoo as the CEO of Xobni, an acquisition. Xobni made a product that organized Microsoft Outlook inboxes (Xobni is "inbox" spelled backwards.) Monaco was the CTO of Xobni.
According to our source, Mayer, Bonforte, and Monaco believe Yahoo's advantage over Google, Apple, and Microsoft is that Yahoo has a much older relationship with its users.
"Gmail users have only had their accounts for 10 years," says our source. "Yahoo has many 20 year old accounts. Back then people used to email themselves a lot - store things. To surface that kind of data usefully is exciting."
Our source imagined a user who has been talking about a particular baseball team with his friends for the past decade or so. By scanning that user's inbox, Yahoo will know to keep that user abreast of everything going on with that baseball team.
During Yahoo's earnings call yesterday, Mayer offered another example for how the product could work. A user on the way to the airport could search "JFK." Because the user had been emailing about an upcoming flight, the app would know that the user did not mean the president, but the airport. It would also be able to surface flight details.
Mayer made her name and her considerable fortune helping to build Google's search engine. It's becoming clear that she's betting she can save Yahoo by steering it into competition with Google in search.
It's not clear if that competition will just be over where search is going - a battle between Google Now and Index - or over the entire search market, including Web search.
We keep hearing from sources close to Yahoo that Mayer would like to re-build Yahoo's Web search engine, tuned specially for mobile.
We've been unable to nail down whether this is true. Former Yahoo executives tell us it is a terrible idea. They say that it would cost Yahoo as much as $500 million per year. They say Mayer should outsource all of its search traffic to Google and thereby increase Yahoo's profits by $1 billion per year.
Mayer is putting Yahoo into position to launch such a project anyway. Last week, she announced re-negotiated terms of Yahoo's search deal with Bing, reducing the required amount of outsourced traffic to 51% and setting it up so Yahoo could opt-out of the deal entirely in October.
A Yahoo spokesperson declined to comment.