Anxious Yahoo BOSS Developers To Speak With DOJ About Microsoft Deal

In July 2008, Yahoo announced a radical new product called BOSS, or “Build Your Own Search Service” that lets developers tap into Yahoo’s core search index with an unprecedented amount of flexibility. Now, in light of the Microsoft/Yahoo search deal that was announced last summer, the future of BOSS is uncertain. That’s bad news for the many developers who have built projects on the BOSS APIs, some of whom are building businesses off of the service. Now, after being met with months of silence and uncertainty, some BOSS developers are taking action: they’ve scheduled a conference call with the Department of Justice to discuss their concerns.

Update:: A Yahoo team member has posted that BOSS will live on.

It’s understandable why the developers are agitated. Google and Bing both offer APIs, but they limit monetization options, limit the ways developers can change the way their search results are presented, and have myriad other restrictions that BOSS doesn’t. All of which means that developers can’t easily port their applications over to one of the alternatives.

A developer identifying himself as “Phil” on the BOSS Yahoo Group sent a letter to the DOJ outlining his concerns. The DOJ has apparently responded, saying that they will hold a conference call with any concerned developers (the group contains instructions for any BOSS developers who wish to join). We have a request in with the DOJ to verifiy that the call is scheduled, but it sounds legitimate.

We’ve reprinted Phil’s letter to the DOJ, which outlines the developers’ concerns, below:

Dear sir/madam,

I represent a group of people who are concerned about a certain aspect of an
antitrust issue which we understand is currently being examined by your office.
The matter at hand is the Microsoft -Yahoo deal. Our concern is the following:

In July 2008, Yahoo introduced a new program called Yahoo Boss. Boss is a
programming framework (called an API) which allows developers to create new
search engines which use the Yahoo database. In Yahoos own words:

“BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) is Yahoo!’s open search web services
platform. The goal of BOSS is simple: to foster innovation in the search
industry. Developers, start-ups, and large Internet companies can use BOSS to
build and launch web-scale search products that utilize the entire Yahoo! Search
index. BOSS gives you access to Yahoo!’s investments in crawling and indexing,
ranking and relevancy algorithms, and powerful infrastructure. By combining your
unique assets and ideas with our search technology assets, BOSS is a platform
for the next generation of search innovation, serving hundreds of millions of
users across the Web.”

(Quote from http://developer.yahoo.com/search/boss/)

The reason this program is so important is because before Boss, tens, if not
hundreds of millions of dollars would be required to start a new search engine.
Boss changed all that by making Yahoos own servers and search results available
to third parties. In the year and a half since, tens, if not hundreds of
companies and web developers have spent thousands of hours developing new
websites, web applications and search engines using Yahoo Boss. By May 2009,
Yahoo Boss was serving 30 million search queries a DAY through these websites
(http://www.ysearchblog.com/2009/05/19/key-milestones-for-searchmonkey-and-boss/\
). Clearly, Yahoo Boss is a unique program which has been the biggest catalyst
in search engine innovation and competition in years.

Google and Microsoft do have their own similar APIS, but they are severely
limited. Googles API gives the user but a small number of search results, while
both Google and Microsofts apis disallow open monetization, thus rendering them
meaningless from a competitive point of view.

Over the many months since the Microsoft-Yahoo deal was announced, countless
developers have been asking Yahoo for information on the future of Yahoo Boss,
yet in vain. Yahoo refuses to tell us whether the framework will be shut down or
not. This is even after the two companies announced that all the details of
their deal had been fleshed out. This has given us the distinct feeling that the
decision to shut down Boss has already been made, but that they prefer to keep
that quiet in order to not “rock the boat”.

Obviously, this is of great concern to us. In addition to all the time and work
we have put in, Boss is the ONLY factor which has allowed broad and viable
competition in the search engine industry. Shutting down Boss would by default
mean shutting down all the websites using it, in addition to signifying the end
to the aforementioned competition.