Yahoo! Axis

Despite the term “Google” becoming somewhat synonymous with the term “search,” where people say “Go Google this” meaning to do an Internet search, Google is far from a monopoly. I sometimes have a hard time convincing others that Google is not the only search engine available, and that Yahoo!, Bing, and others are highly competitive and in some cases superior to the ubiquitous Google. Of the major search engines today, Yahoo! is the oldest, starting operations in early 1994, when the World Wide Web was in its infancy.

Prior to Yahoo! and the Web, the major search utility was the University of Minnesota’s “Gopher,” text based, clumsy, difficult to use, not user friendly, but still the finest search utility available at the time. In early 1994, just months after the creation of the World Wide Web, the first real Web browser, Mosaic, enabled the primitive Internet to be viewed with a graphical interface, rather than the text based method used previously. Jerry Yang and David Filo, graduate students at Stanford University, created a Web site named “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web,” which was a directory of other Web sites. This graphical guide organized the few thousand Web sites then online into a hierarchal and logical menu. In April 1994, “David and Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” was renamed “Yahoo!,” and included in its earliest listings my Golden Triangle Weather Page (created in March 1994).

Contrary to some urban legends in circulation, Yahoo! was not named after an exclamation denoting joy or the popular chocolate drink of a similar name (YooHoo). Some even contend that it was named after the pejorative used in David Filo’s native Louisiana when referring to someone who is a little crazy, ignorant or eccentric, calling them a “Yahoo.” According to Wikipedia, “The word ‘yahoo’ as used by Yang and Filo is an acronym for the moniker that they used for their menu system, ‘Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.’” Today Yahoo! is among the top three search services, employing 12,000 people, with about $5 billion in annual revenue, a net income of about $1 billion and about 700 million visitors a month.

The level and degree of competition among search engines and their related and complimentary services is very heavy. Google, Microsoft’s Bing and Yahoo! all are continuously introducing new improvements, features and applications in order to better compete with each other. Recently, Yahoo! rolled out its Axis service, which (according to Wikipedia), “ ... replaces the standard search results page in other browsers with a menu of search results appearing as thumbnails at the top of the page. The menu allows the user to stay on the current page without navigating away from it.” Yahoo! explains it as, “Axis combines searching and browsing in one experience.”

Axis is integrated and coordinated to work independently or interchangeably between a computer, iPhone and an iPad, with an Android app to become available soon. The computer version, which works as a plug-in or add-on with almost all current major browsers, is available for free from axis.yahoo.com. The iPad and iPhone versions are available free from the iTunes app store. The Android version will be available free from the Play Store (Android app store).

I first installed the computer-based version of Axis as a plug-in for Firefox, by clicking on the yellow “Get it now!” button on the top-right corner of the Axis Webpage (axis.yahoo.com). Installing in a matter of seconds, Axis “Home” appeared as a customizable dark gray screen with three interactive rows, “Read Later,” “My Favorites” and “Read From Device.” On the bottom left corner of the browser screen is a search box, an interactive “star” that can be used to instantly mark favorites, and a home icon that returns to the Axis home page. When I hovered my cursor over the search box, from the bottom of the browser window, a real-time listing of the most popular current Yahoo! searches (called “Trends” or “Trending Searches”) was displayed. There was a momentary navigation instruction that appeared over the search box that said, “Up and down arrow keys for suggestions; right arrow to complete; press tilde access key to switch between panels.” According to Yahoo!, as you type a search request, Axis predicts your results, based on the popularity and relevance of the search results. When typing the first letters of a search topic in the box, the most popular search terms beginning with those letters instantly appears in the table below the search box, and thumbnails of the Web pages appear, rather than the traditional line of blue hyperlinked text common in search engine results, referred to in the industry as “the 10 blue links.” As an experiment, I started typing the letters of my last name in the search box, and search results started to appear; after I typed the first three letters “wil,” the most popular searches beginning with “wil” appeared, including William Shatner, Willie Nelson, and Will Ferrell. Typing the fourth letter (wils) displayed Wilson Leather, Wilson Golf, and the thumbnails of several other popular Web pages beginning with “wils.” Continuing to the first six letters (wilske) displayed the images of the most popular searches with that beginning, including some business and family Web sites, one of which was my last name. Upon completing my last name (wilsker) a string of thumbnail images were displayed, with an arrow icon on the right and left edges of the search recommendations, which are used to scroll and visually display the actual Web pages, rather than a simple line of text as shown on the traditional search engines. The order of the results is in terms of relevance and popularity. Clicking on the “star” icon will add the search term selectively to the “Read Later” or “My Favorites” ribbon.

Since many of us use multiple digital devices, Axis is explicitly designed to be used seamlessly between devices. For portable digital devices, currently the iPhone and iPad, and soon to also be available on Android devices, Axis works slightly differently, in that on portable devices it functions somewhat as a complete browser, rather than as a browser plug-in as it is on a computer. If the same sign-on is used among different devices, the search results are seamlessly synchronized between devices, with the same favorites and read-later bars appearing on each device. A search begun on one device can be instantly reviewed or continued on another device since bookmarks, favorites and searches can be automatically and instantly synchronized between devices with Axis. Since the portable versions of Axis function as a browser, a Web address or URL can also be typed in the search box on the page, with a thumbnail of the page appearing, allowing for a preview before the full page is opened. Yahoo! claims that a single Axis homepage on all of your digital devices enables easy access wherever you go.

I have tried Axis, and it is fast, convenient and useful. I especially like the way that it predicts the results before the search term typing is completed, and displays the results as a large thumbnail image of the page, instead of the more traditional “10 blue links.” While currently available for any desktop or laptop computer running any of the newer major browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome), iPhones and iPads, I eagerly await the upcoming release of the Android version. Axis is one of those “try it and you will like it” kind of services, and I like it.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.

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