This is part of a growing trend of using AJAX in search. Yahoo’s new tools are really useful – they help you complete your search query as you start typing. Search assist goes a step further by suggesting related terms using some old Alta Vista technology called Prisma. The search suggest technology has been done by others – but it’s nice to see a major search engine offering this feature – I really like it.
Incidentally I think, as well as improving the user experience it could have a positive impact on Yahoo’s revenues from paid search… The suggestions that are shown will be popular queries that they have seen before. This will mean that these will become more popular and there will be less people searching in the tail. The more popular search terms are monetized better than the tail terms because there is more competition for them. Yahoo could give more weight to search terms that have higher bids although this would have to be done carefully to ensure it didn’t negatively impact the user experience.
When I tried this I noticed the search suggest tool is only on the home page, not on the search results page. It would be nice if it was there too.
As an aside I remember talking to Alta Vista about the Prisma technology years ago – before they were acquired by Yahoo. They were considered replacing the Prisma technology with our Related Search technology – but we never quite got a deal worked out.