Yahoo plans to upgrade its search capabilities with a new structured search feature that's designed to make the web easier to navigate. The company said it will allow users to run a structured search around select terms, rather than navigate through a large number of search results.

If a user enters the term 'mobile phone' in the search box, for example, apart from throwing up the usual search results containing 'mobile phone', Yahoo's new structured search will also offer pull-down menus with choices including mobile phone brands, technologies and specifications, and other features, said Ricardo Baeza-Yates, Yahoo's vice president of research for Europe and Latin America. The feature is primarily suitable for e-commerce applications such as online shopping, he added.

Once the user has made a selection on the menus, Yahoo Search will give the user a list of mobile phones meeting the specifications, their prices, and the websites where they can be purchased. Baeza-Yates did not disclose a date when this feature would be available on Yahoo Search, but indicated it could happen fast.

The structured search feature is one of many technologies that Yahoo plans to introduce to differentiate its search from that of its competitors such as Google. The company is also working on a new distributed search architecture that would make local search a lot faster, according to Baeza-Yates. The plan is to have a network of datacentres in many countries so that local queries are handled fast locally at the datacentre in the country, he added.

"The problem, which we are trying to solve, is to make the search for global queries also fast, as the latency of the network is the main problem," he said.

Semantic search, another area many search engine providers are working on, is not scalable and fast enough for a billion web pages, according to Baeza-Yates. Semantic Search tries to use semantics, or the meaning in language, to generate search results. Parsing multiple languages is not an easy task, and is made all the more difficult because users don’t usually write a query in proper natural language syntax, Baeza-Yates said. Yahoo is instead trying to use natural language technology to derive information on the intention of the query, and achieve better results, he added.

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